Mike’s Top Ten of 2015

2015 is one of the strongest years of this decade, if not the strongest year. I’ve got at least two separate legitimate top ten lists with the films of this year. If I took my 11-20 and presented it to you as if it were the list of another year, it would look totally fine and no one would even question it. That’s how strong this year is.

Though the one thing that has remained constant for me after all this time, despite how many amazing films there are and how easy it is for stuff to be swapped out for something else, is my #1. I don’t think anyone else would have it close to their #1 film of the year, and I was steadfast about it from the jump. I knew it was my #1 movie and nothing was able to change that. No matter what great other stuff there is and no matter how highly the rest of the films from this year are regarded over time, my #1 is gonna be my #1. And I take great comfort in that.

I should also mention how much other fantastic stuff there is this year in the lower tiers as well. This is a good place to find some great hidden gems to check out. Some years there’s only a handful. Here, you can throw a dart and pretty much whatever you hit is worth seeing. That’s a strong year.

Mike’s Top Ten of 2015

The Big Short


Inside Out

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

The Revenant



Steve Jobs

11-20: Anomalisa, Bridge of Spies, Creed, Ex Machina, The Hateful Eight, Love & Mercy, The Night Before, Sicario, Son of Saul, Spectre

Tier two: 99 Homes, A Bigger Splash, Black Mass, Bone Tomahawk, Carol, Crimson Peak, Everest, The Final Girls, It Follows, Joy, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, The Lobster, Magic Mike XXL, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Remember, Spring, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Walk, The Wrecking Crew

Tier three: Amy, Beasts of No Nation, Cop Car, Dope, Entertainment, Grandma, Infinitely Polar Bear, Jurassic World, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Look Who’s Back, A Man Called Ove, Roger Waters The Wall, Straight Outta Compton, Tangerine, Time Out of Mind, Trumbo, Victoria, The Voices, Youth, Z for Zachariah

Tier four: Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Chi-Raq, Christmas Again, The Danish Girl, Danny Collins, Faults, Furious 7, Iris, Legend, Macbeth, McFarland USA, Mississippi Grind, Mr. Holmes, Mustang, Night Owls, The Second Mother, Spy, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Tale of Tales

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1. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Sometimes you just know immediately something is going to be your favorite movie of a year. That’s the feeling I had with this one, even though it only came out in June. It was instantaneous. And the thing is, I know that almost no one even knows this movie exists. Sure, the people who know me do, because I wouldn’t stop talking about this movie for two years and basically made them all watch it, but by and large, this movie has a very small fan base. Which is a damn shame.

It’s about a high school senior who is forced by his parents to befriend a girl in his grade who was just diagnosed with leukemia. And at first, neither particularly wants to be friendly, but then eventually they warm up to one another and become very close. It doesn’t sound like much when you try to describe it, but it’s one of those movies you just have to see. I’ll admit, it’s very indie, and it feels like there are some indie tropes spread all throughout it, but there’s just something so beautiful about how this film is handled. I can’t say for sure that everyone who sees it is going to love it, but what I can do is shout as loud as I can about how much I love it, which will hopefully get some people to watch it who might otherwise not know it even exists.

Look at the rest of this year. Look how many amazing films there are. And know that this is far and away my #1 movie of the year. It’s not even close. That’s how much I love this movie and how much I think it deserves more of an audience.

2. Inside Out

“Take her to the moon for me.”

I’ll admit, I was starting to stray from Pixar. They had Toy Story 3, which felt like a big culmination for them. And then… they just kind of drifted for the next five years. Sequels (Cars 3), prequels (Monsters University) and lesser original stuff (Brave). But then this happened, and they made you realize how fucking great they are at making quality original content.

The film largely takes place inside a child’s head. Each of the main characters is one of her core emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. And the film takes place as she moves away from her childhood home and to a new city where she has no friends and everything seems new and strange. So now all the emotions are going through things they’ve never felt before. It’s so beautiful.

This movie had me from its opening score notes. The minute that score hit, you just knew you were taken care of. This, to me, is one of the three best movies Pixar has ever made. Include them all. It’s top three. It’s a stunning achievement for a studio known for its stunning achievements. And you know how you know this is one of their truly stunning achievements? Because every single one of us can pinpoint the exact moment where we all cried during this movie. It may be more than once for some of us, but we can all tell you the exact moment where it happened for every single one of us. And that’s a great film.

3. The Revenant

“I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I’d done it already.”

This was always a no-brainer for me. Western, directed by Iñarritu (especially Iñarritu coming off Birdman), shot by Chivo and starring Leo? Done deal. It was even more sealed when, around June of this year, I read the script it was based on. And at that point if only 60% of what I read ended up in this movie it was gonna be in my top ten. And honestly… the final product is like 80-85%, which is incredible.

It’s a simple revenge story. Leo is a frontiersman who is helping a group of fur trappers travel through the country collecting pelts for trade. One day, he gets brutally attacked by a bear. And then one of the men, Tom Hardy, even though Leo is still alive, leaves him for dead and buries him, telling the rest of the men he died. So they move on. But Leo, not dead, crawls out from the grave and just fights his way to survival, eventually making his way back to exact his revenge on Hardy.

It’s fucking wonderful. There’s like no dialogue in this movie. Because there doesn’t need to be. It’s almost all scenery and pure action. And not like, shoot-em-up action, I mean bodily action. The scene where Leo crawls out of the grave is just stunning. (He kind of practiced for it in Wolf of Wall Street with that quaaludes sequence.) It’s so brutal (and the script is even more brutal than that), and it’s that kind of action that makes the film so riveting to watch.

Just one of the most beautiful films of the year, and it earned Iñarritu his second of back-to-back Best Director Oscars, earned Chivo his third Cinematography statue on a row, and earned Leo his long overdue Oscar. It’s one of the great achievements of 2015.

4. Room

“You’re gonna love it.”
“The world.”

I was all over this one because it was directed by Lenny Abrahamson, who had the previous year made Frank, which I absolutely adored. And then I saw the trailer for this movie and was immediately in. It was exactly my kind of movie. So I ran to go see this as early as I could and ended up being so moved by the film that it immediately was an automatic top five movie for me for the year.

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star as a mother and son who live in a tiny ten-by-ten shed they call “Room.” She, as a teenager, was abducted and held captive in this place. Her captor brings her food and things she needs, and occasionally comes in to essentially rape her. And Tremblay is the child born from those encounters. And now, he’s five, and all he knows is the inside of this place. Though she has been working on a way to try to get him (and maybe them both) out. And oh my god, is it one of the most riveting things you’ve ever seen.

Larson and Tremblay are absolutely perfect in their roles. She won an Oscar for hers and he sadly got overlooked. Also amazing in the film is Joan Allen as Larson’s mom. This is one of the most emotionally affecting movies you will ever see, and it is one of the most glorious cinematic achievements of the year and of the decade. I cannot truly tell you how incredible this is, you just have to see it for yourself.

5. Mad Max: Fury Road

“Oh, what a day… what a lovely day!”

Is there a single 2015 top ten list where this doesn’t appear? If you looked at the production troubles of this film, you’d think it would be bad. I figured it would be awesome, but just kind of good and solidly upper-middle of the pack. No one could have figured we’d get what we got. This movie is a straight action movie that transcends all that and just leaves you breathless for most of it because it’s just so amazingly handled.

The film is designed as one giant chase movie. Tom Hardy plays Max (taking over for Mel Gibson in what was his first signature role), and in a way it’s his movie, but the real star of the film is Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. She’s the ‘road warrior’ of the movie, playing the top driver for a warlord who is sending his crew out on a run. But pretty quickly things don’t go as planned, and you realize there’s other things going on. And then Hardy is just kind of there for all this, doing what he can to make it through alive but also doing the altruistic thing and helping the right people out.

The real punch that this movie packs is the fact that it’s a big epic action film with little to no CGI in it. It’s all practical action and effects. They literally towed all these rigs into the desert and started crashing them into one another and were throwing people off of them and swinging them around. IT all feels totally realistic. You know they added some of the stuff later (like that big dust storm), but it all feels dirty and real. And that’s what makes it work. Plus there’s real emotion here. You give a shit about the characters.

Even the people who really like the previous Mad Max films couldn’t tell you they’d have seen this coming. Those are fun and really good. This is another level of amazing. It’s just flat out one of the best movies of the decade, and something everyone agrees on, which is rare in this day and age.

6. The Big Short

“I don’t get it. Why are they confessing?”
“They’re not confessing.”
“They’re bragging.”

I didn’t know what I was getting with this. Adam McKay was known for his dumb comedies. Anchorman and Step Brothers. And here he was, making a movie about the crashing of the housing market with this crazy cast. On the one hand, you have to trust the actors, but on the other… how could this have been good? I’ve never seen this guy make a legitimately good movie. And then you see it, and you’re just blown away. This movie is smart, this movie is funny, this movie is angry… this is a movie for our times. This movie perfectly encapsulates 2015 in a lot of ways.

It’s impossible to explain the style McKay employs to tell his story. It’s like if you took Goodfellas and Family Guy and then Oliver Stone at his most experimental and threw them all together into a giant pot. That’s the film. Voiceover, scenes that break the fourth wall (he brings in Margot Robbie in a bathtub to explain complex housing bonds just so people will pay attention), cutaways… you name it, he does it. And somehow, it works. Really fucking well. And on top of that, it’s one of the most entertaining movies of the year that also perfectly gives you a lot of information most people wouldn’t care to learn. A lot of people heard about all the stuff that happened, but no one really understood it. And this movie helps you understand it. And it never feels like it’s talking down to you. It’s trying to say, “Hey, look, this is why you should be outraged.” And it’s doing it in a way that doesn’t bore you. It’s an incredible achievement.

Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling — the entire cast is just wonderful. If I kept naming names, I’d just have a paragraph of people who are in this, even down to the cameos. Adam McKay makes a masterpiece for our times with this movie, and he developed his own unique narrative style while doing it. I cannot sing this movie’s praises enough.

7. Brooklyn

You have to think like an American. You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won’t kill you. And one day the sun will come out – you might not even notice straight away, it’ll be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past. Someone who’s only yours. And you’ll realize… that this is where your life is.”

Another one. I don’t know many people who’d have seen this one coming. This is a year with movies you expect, based on the people involved, to have been good, but instead we got great. More often than not, we got great movies, and that’s what makes this year work as well as it does. The hits just keep on coming.

This is a movie starring Saoirse Ronan as a girl who immigrates to America from Ireland. And it’s about her experience coming into a new country and knowing nobody. And it’s just perfect. It really is. It turns into a beautiful romance, but it doesn’t stay there. It’s a romance, but then it becomes more complex than that. Because ultimately it’s a movie about finding your home. And it speaks to everything that I love. My heart felt so full after watching this movie. Saoirse Ronan is absolutely perfect in this movie, and John Crowley does such a tender job in directing it. All the co-stars are great (especially Emory Cohen as her Italian boyfriend and Julie Walters as the lady who runs the boardinghouse where she lives), and it’s just a beautiful film that deserves to be called one of the absolute best of this year.

8. Steve Jobs

“We’re not a pit crew at Daytona. This can’t be fixed in seconds.”
“You didn’t have seconds, you had three weeks. The universe was created in a third of that time.”
“Well, someday you’ll have to tell us how you did it.”

Why is this not on everyone’s top ten list for this year? Why wasn’t this film immediately heralded as a masterpiece? How was this movie entirely overlooked at awards shows save for two performances? What universe is this?

This is a Steve Jobs biopic directed by Danny Boyle and starring Michael Fassbender. It was going to star Christian Bale, but he pulled out at the last minute (as amazing as he would have been), and Fassbender stepped in and gives one of the performances of his career (which are steadily increasing in number the more work he puts out there). The script is written by Aaron Sorkin, which already tells you it’s going to be great. Literally everything Sorkin puts out is incredible. But it’s the combination of how Sorkin structures the story and what Boyle brings to the table visually that makes this movie sing.

Sorkin’s script is broken into three distinct acts, each before a major product launch in Jobs’ life. Each is its own 40 minute play, and each one generally follows the same structure, which is Jobs coming across all the important people in his life as everyone scrambles to get everything ready for the big event that’s about to start. And the major players are Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ Girl Friday (who is fucking wonderful here, though so is everyone else), Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, Jeff Daniels as John Sculley (Jobs’ mentor and father figure), Michael Stuhlbarg as Jobs’ put-upon developer and Katherine Waterston as Jobs’ ex-wife and mother of a daughter he tried to deny for years.

What Boyle does is take each segment — the first in the 1984, before the original Mac launch, the second in 1988 before Jobs’ new computer NeXT launches (his first solo effort after a bitter divorce with Apple) and the third in 1998 before the iMac launches — he shoots them in three different film styles. The first is shot in 16mm, the second is in 35mm, and the third is digital, which sort of gives you a clearer and crisper picture as time goes on, reflecting the advancement in technology throughout the different eras. It’s wonderful, and subtly underscores everything that’s going on within the film.

And everyone in the movie is absolutely perfect. Sorkin scripts give everyone a chance to do their best work, but everyone here really does their best work. And I still can’t fathom why this wasn’t universally lauded as a masterpiece. Because I was there, waiting at the station for that train to come home. And absolutely no one else showed up. But hey, not the first time I’ve done that and I’ve been really good at championing these causes before, so here’s hoping we get people to come around on another one that deserves it.

9. The Martian

“In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option, I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

Count this as another film that I consider a minor surprise. I think it’s because Ridley Scott had a few years of a kind of ‘meh’ output. He always makes solid and watchable movies. But he had American Gangster, which I loved, and then had Body of Lies (decent), Robin Hood (ehh), Prometheus (solid but not amazing), The Counsellor (didn’t work) and Exodus: Gods and Kings (didn’t work). So I hear that he’s making a movie about Matt Damon stuck on Mars and I’m like, “Okay, whatever. I’m sure it’ll be like those other ones.” And then almost immediately you realize, “Oh no, this movie’s gonna be great.”

That’s the film — manned mission to Mars to collect data, and after a dust storm forces the crew to abandon the mission early, Damon gets stranded and is presumed dead. Only he’s not. So he, being a rocket scientist and a botanist, has to figure out a way to survive long enough until someone can come get him (and also find a way to communicate to everyone that he’s still, in fact, alive). And holy shit, is it amazing. First off, everything he does to survive is just riveting to watch. I like procedure movies where you watch smart people enacting plans. It’s always interesting for me to watch. And then here, you get the bonus of it just being fun. I know that’s weird to say, but it’s not just Damon dourly worried about survival. He literally says at one point, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” It’s just a crowd-pleasing movie.

And then you get the NASA stuff with a great crew of people who can fill up time so Damon isn’t stuck on screen the whole time by himself — Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Eiofor, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Kristen Wiig, Mackenzie Davis, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Benedict Wong and Donald Glover. It’s just wonderful. It’s one of the best movies of Ridley’s career. It’s a movie that everyone will enjoy, because it’s entertaining, it’s well-made, and it’s above all else watchable. And that’s always the key to a great movie for me. If you can just put it on and watch it whenever it’s on, that’s a good movie. And this is one of those.

10. Spotlight

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”

You know what keeps this movie on my top ten list? The watchability factor. I’ve, many times over the past couple years, found this movie on TV and just watched it from whatever point it was at until the end. It’s that kind of movie. And there’s something to be said about that.

This is All the Cardinal’s Men. It’s a journalist film about the reporters from the Boston Globe who helped uncover a scandal that had been hidden for decades in the city where clergy members had been molesting children and the higher ups at the church had been keeping it quiet by moving the priests around to different parishes. And it’s just stunning to watch. First off, it’s a love letter to journalism. You watch real reporters writing real stories and following real leads. And it’s not just about finding any old information. It’s about having sources, and having something concrete that can be printed ethically and legally without getting the paper sued. That, to me, is the greatest triumph of the film above all else.

The cast — Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, John Slattery, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci — they’re all tremendous, and it’s one of the best written films you’ll ever see. It’s a masterpiece. There’s a reason this movie won Best Picture. It’s just top to bottom great.

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Anomalisa — Charlie Kaufman’s animated film. Any time he makes a movie, I am thrilled. And this… this was just perfection. It’s a stop-motion movie about an ordinary guy on an ordinary trip. Family guy goes on a business trip to the middle of nowhere in a bland hotel… you know the deal. And they emphasize how boring his life is by having every other character besides the main character be voiced by the same person. David Thewlis is the main character and all of the other people in the film are voiced by Tom Noonan. Except one. That’s Jennifer Jason Leigh. She’s a woman he meets at the hotel who gets through to him. And she slowly helps change his life and worldview for the better. And it’s just beautiful. Oine of the best animated films of the decade and another masterpiece by Kaufman who… I mean, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine, Synecdoche New York… is there anyone who analyzes the nooks and crannies human condition in film as well as he does?

Bridge of Spies — Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller. I’ll admit, I didn’t know what I was getting with this one, but I should have known… it’s Spielberg. It’s gonna be great. The beautiful thing about this movie is that it spends its first fifteen minutes with Mark Rylance and not Tom Hanks. Not that Rylance is the villain, but he’s the centerpiece of the story, and you get this beginning where you have no idea what’s going on for a few minutes until they reveal it. And it’s great. And then Hanks shows up, and he’s just this bulldog of a character (with that great opening scene that was clearly written by the Coen brothers), and you get this whole court case aspect of it, which is interesting in itself, and then there’s the capture of Francis Powers and the prisoner swap aspect, with Hanks going and chasing all these sides to get what he wants. It’s spectacular. Rylance and Hanks are both fantastic, and Hanks once again delivers a performance that is so good and so nuanced that you literally take for granted what he’s doing. It took me about three watches to actually see the level of acting he was putting on. Stunning how good he always is. But yeah, this is great Spielberg. This is one of those, like Lincoln, where it’s good enough to be in the top ten and just got squeezed for lack of space. Almost any other year this would be another top ten movie for him, to go along with the fourteen or so others he’s got over the years.

Creed — This was a soft reboot of a franchise I wasn’t sure I wanted, but was happy to get. The fact that Stallone was involved made me optimistic about it, but I really wasn’t sure if the idea of a reboot with Apollo Creed’s son was a good idea. But, Ryan Coogler had a story to tell, and it’s the fact that he had that story to tell that made it work as well as it did. He nails the emotional aspect of a son living in a father’s footsteps, torn between the not-so-great dad he was while also being his idol while also dying while he was young and all that comes with that. Not to mention also doing the same thing his father did and was a champion at. All that totally comes through. And then you have Rocky, who gets the most emotional storyline of the franchise, really. Now all his friends are dead, he’s got this kid he’s mentoring, and he’s also now got cancer. It’s great. The whole movie is great. They really rebooted this franchise perfectly with this one, to the point where you can have multiple so-so sequels and I’d still be excited for the next one.

Ex Machina — I did not expect this movie to become as big as it did. I was in on it because it was written and directed by Alex Garland, who wrote Sunshine, a movie I adore. And he wrote Never Let Me Go and 28 Days Later. And he cast Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson, who I was becoming big fans of after Inside Llewyn Davis and Frank. So I was ready for this to be solid. But I could never have expected this solid. The entire film (save a few minor scenes) takes place in Isaac’s underground estate, where he invites Gleeson to perform an experiment with him, which is to evaluate how lifelike his new A.I. robot can be. And that robot is played by Alicia Vikander, who absolutely no one knew about stateside at the time. She had been in A Royal Affair and Anna Karenina, but this was the movie that made her a star. Everyone came away from this talking about her. She is incredible here, and helps elevate the film to one of the most special pieces of cinema that 2015 gave us. Well, her and that dance sequence.

That dance scene, by the way, is the single greatest movie scene of 2015, and the line that precedes it, when Gleeson says, “You tore up her picture” and Isaac responds, “I’m gonna tear up the fucking dance floor,” is the greatest line in cinema for 2015.

The Hateful Eight — This is the only Quentin movie apart from Grindhouse to not make my top ten. And this one originally did make the top ten and very well might end up back there again. This year is just too goddamn strong and things keep shuffling around because they’re all so close. This is Quentin writing a contained western. 90% of the movie takes place in a single cabin. And then 8 of the other 10% is either in a stagecoach on the way to the cabin or in the barn outside the cabin. It’s a play. A mystery, even. A bunch of strangers show up at the same location and get snowed in. They are: a bounty hunter and his captive, a former Union officer, a former Confederate officer, the new town sheriff, the hangman, a cow puncher, the stagecoach driver, and the new hand at the inn where everyone is. And half the film is everyone interacting with one another and the other half is after a murder occurs and everyone is trying to figure out just what exactly is going on. This is a movie that I watched first on DVD, and I thought, “Yeah, that was good, but I’m not sure I loved it.” Then I saw it in theaters, and I liked it a little bit more. And then I saw the Roadshow version with the intermission and I liked it a little more. Then I watched it a couple of months later and liked it even more. And I realized… Quentin’s movies are always better on the rewatch. He’s one of the most rewatchable filmmakers out there. And the fact that this fell out of the top ten for me says more about the strength of the year and the amount of stuff I love more than it does the quality of this film. Because this is a great movie. Anything negative I have to say about it is upon comparing it to his other films, which, even there I realized I tend to like the ones that I’ve spent more time with more than the newer ones just because I’ve had more time with them. Great is great. I love this movie.

Love & Mercy — A biopic of Brian Wilson that never got enough lough at the time and still hasn’t gotten enough love. It’s so good that two completely different people play him and it just works. It’s split into two time periods, young Brian and older Brian. Young Brian, 60s Brian, Pet Sounds Brian, is played by Paul Dano, and 80s Brian, mentally ill Brian, is played by John Cusack. And honestly… you don’t notice. You really don’t. And you see Brian at the beginning struggling with touring and the early stages of mental illness, but also creating the brilliance that is Pet Sounds. And then you have older Brian, who is under the “care” of Paul Giamatti, his psychiatrist, who is basically running his life and emotionally torturing him. It’s incredible. It really is. Both Dano and Cusack are spectacular as Wilson and Giamatti is great, as is Elizabeth Banks. Cannot recommend this movie highly enough, as it’s one of the most underrated and underseen films of the entire decade, and one of the absolute best music biopics out there.

The Night Before — One of the great Christmas movies in recent years and one of the funniest and most underrated comedies of the decade. I saw this on Thanksgiving Day 2015 as part of a triple feature with Creed and The Danish Girl (that’s right. That’s what you do when everyone’s out of town and you can’t be with family. You go sit at the movies for six hours). It was the middle film in the bunch, and I was interested because I thought the trailer was funny and I like all the people involved with it. And I thought the movie was hysterical. I was basically the only person in the theater, and I was laughing my ass off. And then like a year later, I was talking about how good it was, and so many people went, “Oh was that funny? I forgot that came out.” Because no one ever bothered to watch it. But trust me. It’s hilarious. The film revolves around three friends: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie, who recreate the same Christmas tradition every year after starting it in the wake of Gordon-Levitt losing his parents just before the holidays. Only now, Rogen’s about to have a child and Mackie is a big NFL star. So they can’t really do it anymore. And Gordon-Levitt… well, he’s not really doing much of anything and probably should get his shit together. So the film is them going around and doing their thing for the last time and trying to get to this fabled party that happens every Christmas Eve that’s the hottest ticket in town. It’s so funny. Best character in the film goes to Michael Shannon, who plays their former gym teacher who sells them weed. And oh my god, is he the best thing in this. This movie, while not exactly a family Christmas movie, is hilarious and holds up among the best Christmas movies out there and is truly one of the best comedies you will see from this decade. Go watch it. It’s great.

Sicario — This movie cemented three things. First, that Roger Deakins is forever a cinematography legend (which we already knew, but more cement is always good). Second, that Denis Villeneuve can take any material and elevate it beyond what you think is capable. And third, that Benicio del Toro is a fucking badass (which we also kind of already knew). I guess that third one is really that Taylor Sheridan is a great writer. Within three years, he gave us this, Hell or High Water and Wind River. Which is a hell of a run. This is a movie about the war on drugs, and has some of the most thrilling set pieces you’ll ever see. The opening in the house is great, even if it’s really not a set piece. The border crossing is perfect. The tunnel sequence. And then there’s the whole section where we just switch main characters for fifteen minutes. Holy shit. But yeah, it’s about an FBI agent played by Emily Blunt who joins a secret task force that’s gonna go into Mexico and win the war more effectively under the table. Josh Brolin plays the head of that force, and Benicio plays a former cartel lawyer turned hitman and gives probably the best supporting performance of the year. This entire movie is just amazing. Also, Johan Johansson’s score… my god. Everything about this movie is perfect. It’s one of the most thrilling pieces of work of the year.

Son of Saul — Well this is one of the most intense cinematic experiences you’ll ever have. Holy shit. This won Best Foreign Language Film this year, and I suspect that if it weren’t so intense, it might have been nominated for Best Picture too. It’s a film that is very strict with its visual style, which only makes things more difficult to watch. It stars Geza Rohrig as a sonderkommando in Auschwitz. The sonderkommando were Jews who were basically forced to help load the others into the gas chambers. And it kept them alive a little longer, but at a hell of a cost. So the film is entirely shot tight on Rohrig’s face. He is the focal point of the film, and the camera never breaks from that framing. So what you have is a movie in a concentration camp where all the horrors happen just off-screen or just out of frame, and it makes the whole thing even more horrifying. Because you know what’s happening, and all you see is the look on this guy’s face and are filling in the rest. And you just sit there with your mouth agape because it’s such an intense film. The plot is about him seeing a child who survives the gas, only to die a few minutes later. And he starts treating the boy as his son and decides he wants to find a rabbi and give the kid a proper burial. Meanwhile, the war is ending, tensions are high and it’s clear the sonderkommando are gonna die really soon. So everyone’s trying to find a way to survive, meanwhile all he’s trying to do is bury this one person. And it’s… I can’t describe this movie to you. It’s a masterpiece. It really is. It’s difficult to watch, though, and I get that not everyone will want to put themselves through it. But I’m telling you, if you are willing, you’re in for one of the absolute best films of the decade. It’s a stunning achievement.

Spectre — Bond. Considered a letdown, but largely that’s because Skyfall was so great. There was almost no way this wouldn’t be a letdown in some aspect. It’s an above-average Bond movie that bites off a little more than it can chew. Or rather, it bit off what it could chew, but maybe didn’t cook it the right way for maximum taste. Because I like what it’s doing… Blofeld, the whole thing. I like the concept they went in with, I’m just not sure the whole thing fully comes together. Still, a Craig Bond movie is better than almost all the Roger Moore ones and almost all the Pierce Brosnan ones (and definitely both the Dalton ones). So saying it’s a disappointment gets away from the fact that it’s an awesome Bond movie that I’d prefer to watch over most other things.

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Tier two:

  1. 99 Homes
  2. A Bigger Splash
  3. Black Mass
  4. Bone Tomahawk
  5. Carol
  6. Crimson Peak
  7. Everest
  8. The Final Girls
  9. It Follows
  10. Joy
  11. Kumiko the Treasure Hunter
  12. The Lobster
  13. Magic Mike XXL
  14. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  15. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
  16. Remember
  17. Spring
  18. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  19. The Walk
  20. The Wrecking Crew

Okay, so we’re gonna start with two movies that I keep telling people they need to see that most people don’t really know about. If you do nothing else from this point on in the article, watch these movies.

First, Remember. This movie is the closest I’ve seen to Hitchcock in the modern day. I’m not kidding. It’s directed by Atom Egoyan (who did The Sweet Hereafter) and stars Christopher Plummer as a man with Alzheimer’s who is living in a nursing home. His wife has died and he keeps forgetting. Martin Landau is another patient at the facility and he comes to him one day and says, “Do you remember what we talked about doing once your wife died?” And he tells him — they were both in Auschwitz. And they came to the country and spent years tracking down the sadistic prison guard who murdered both their families. And Plummer agreed (since Landau is in a wheelchair and can’t go anywhere) to go kill the guy, but only after his wife died. So Plummer sets out, Memento-style, with a letter detailing everything he needs to know, just so when his memory slips he can come back and know what needs to be done. And the film is him going around and figuring out — since they know the name the guy has been living under, but there are four of them in the country — which one is the guy. And it’s fucking great. Because you have this great thriller plot and then the Alzheimer’s aspect, wondering if he’ll be able to make it through to get done what he needs to get done. Trust me when I say this movie is great. And I cannot understand why no one’s seen it and why this isn’t on the list of the best films of the decade. Because it’s so goddamn good. Truly one of the greatest hidden gems of this decade.

And now Spring. Which I so lovingly refer to as “Before Sunrise with Sea Monsters.” It’s directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead, who make these really great high concept sci fi indie movies (The Endless is just spectacular. If you like mindfuck movies, go check out that one). The film is about a man whose mother dies and he’s left just sort of in a void. He doesn’t know where to go or what to do. And in his grief, he just decides to say fuck it and get away from it all. He buys a one-way ticket to Europe and just sort of backpacks around for a while. And then, while in Italy, he meets a beautiful woman. And there’s this whole meet-cute and she seems kind of interested but keeps rejecting him, though he feels like he can wear her down. And so he decides to stick around in Italy and try to win her over rather than continue elsewhere. And the rest of the film is this romance building between the two of them. Only… she’s got a secret. She, has a condition where, once in a while, she just so happens to transform into primordial monsters for a few days. Nothing too big. And that’s the film. The juggling of this sweet romance and the fact that, you know, she could fucking kill him. I love this movie so much. It’s a perfect entity. Another one I truly don’t understand why it’s not a bigger film. This, to me, holds up among the best romances of the decade and among the best films of the decade. It’s criminally underseen and more people need to come around to this one immediately.

The Final Girls is just a wonderful horror comedy. I’ve been talking this one up since it came out. I love it. How can you hate a film that features not one, but two stripteases that are central to the plot? The premise of the film is that the daughter of a horror scream queen goes with some people to a screening of her mother’s famous franchise, and then a fire breaks out and her and the people she’s with end up inside the film. So they’re there with all the characters from the movie and bound by the genre ‘rules’. And of course they’re playing with the conventions and having fun with them and all that. And it’s just a great time. But also, it gets emotional by the end. There’s a real catharsis the main character goes through that you’re not expecting when the film starts out. That’s what I love most about it. Trust me on this one. It’s way better than you think it is. And if you already think it’s gonna be good and haven’t seen it — what the hell are you doing? This is great, go watch it. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s Star Wars. It’s the first of a new trilogy. The first one is always the biggest. Phantom Menace was absolutely gigantic when it came out, and this was even bigger than that. And I fell into the trap at the time of thinking, “Well, it’s not really a top ten movie for me, but I do try to figure out which ones are gonna be in the top ten in ten years, and this feels like something I’ll rewatch a bunch.” So I put it on. And it wasn’t right. But to be fair, it had just come out like two weeks before and was the biggest thing in the world at the time and the excitement was… wait for it… Palpatine. (Thank you, I’ll be here all week, be sure to tip your waitress.) It got me. I still really enjoy this movie and it brings back a lot of good memories of that original trilogy. But therein lies the problem… it’s basically just a remake of the first one, just slightly different and newer. So the watchability factor decreases when I think about it and would rather just watch the original instead. I still love the movie, I just… in a year like this, there’s too much great stuff to put this in the top ten. And hey, at least they haven’t started a petition to remake this one, right?

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is an incredible movie with a premise that I can’t believe no one thought to make before. And the kind of premise that made me immediately go, “This movie is for me.” It’s based on the Japanese woman who saw Fargo and thought the story was real so she traveled to Minnesota to try to find the buried money in the snow. Right? Tell me that’s not an amazing premise for a film. So they create this entire backstory for this woman, making this really amazing character piece, and then they bring her to Minnesota and get to have all the weird Coen brothers type comedy with all the nice Minnesota people interacting with the Japanese woman who speaks no English. Rinko Kikuchi plays the woman, and she’s amazing here. And this is just one of the most underrated movies of the decade. It’s so fucking great and almost no one’s seen it. Crimson Peak is Guillermo del Toro making a haunted house movie. And a gothic romance. I remember him saying what his influences on this were, and it was stuff like Dragonwyck from the 40s. He wanted to make this lush gothic romance with ghosts. And he succeeded. Though I feel like not enough people knew what they were getting and never bothered to see it or turned on the movie because it wasn’t the straight horror they were expecting. Mia Wasikowska plays a woman who gets seduced into a family, more specifically by Tom Hiddleston, who lives in this spooky house with his sister, Jessica Chastain. And it’s kind of like Rebecca but with ghosts. There are secrets in the house, bad shit happened there, and Wasikowska slowly starts to figure it out as the film goes along. It’s really solid. The title comes from the fact that the house is built on top a red clay mine, so the soil ‘bleeds’ red (but also for other things, obviously). And the film is just gorgeous to look at. The production design and costumes are top notch, and the score is incredible. Personally, I could have done with more of the gothic romance and less of the ghosts, but it’s a Guillermo del Toro movie, he makes what he wants to make, and it feels unabashedly like his kind of movie. I’m a fan of this, though I know it’s in a kind of tonal place where not everyone is gonna like it. But at this point, I think we all know that he makes quality films, so I think it deserves a shot.

Bone Tomahawk is one of the most fucked up movies you’ll ever see. I became an S. Craig Zahler fan from this movie and his followup, Brawl in Cell Block 99, cemented me as a fan for life. This is a horror western that starts as pure western and then slowly descends into horror. Basically the setup is, a bunch of townsfolk get captured by an unseen menace (which you assume to be Native Americans, based on the genre), one of whom is the wife of a rancher. So the sheriff (Kurt Russell) and a posse of men (who include Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins) set out to go track the bastards down and kill them. Only… it’s not so simple. It’s not the kind of threat you’re used to in a western. And as they get closer to where they’re going, it’s almost like a Heart of Darkness, the movie gets darker and more foreboding and you just know they’re walking into something horrific. And then they get there and… holy shit. It’s not for the squeamish, but it’s fantastic. Definitely one of the more solid films of the year and one of the true hidden gems of the decade. The Walk is Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Man on Wire. About the guy who decided to tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. The documentary is one of the best you’ll ever see, and the film tries to recreate that spirit as best it can. However, where the documentary works is that it can get into detail about all his other stunts and how they meticulously planned this one and all of that. The movie has to tell a linear story. So you get a first hour that’s him in France and all this character stuff… and then you get to America and they’re planning it and all that and the movie gets better. And then, of course, they go out on the wire, and it’s breathtaking. Not perfect, because you can feel the digital cinematography a little too much. The sense of “oh my god, we’re really a hundred and whatever stories up from the street” isn’t totally there, but it’s there enough. The best review I read about this movie was that the last 45 minutes on the wire is one of the most stunning things you’ll ever see, but the first half — “lotta unicycles.” And that’s the movie. The first half is fine but you just want them to get on with what we came here for. And then you get to what we came there for and you’re totally happy. I think the two films work well in tandem with one another. The film achieves what the documentary cannot, which is putting you on the wire, but it also has to tell its story in a way that’s not as interesting as the documentary is. So it’s a tradeoff. But I still think it’s a really solid film.

Carol is a Todd Haynes film, and is so simple that it’s perfect. It’s a lesbian romance set in the 50s. Rooney Mara plays a shop clerk and Cate Blanchett plays an older divorcee who comes into her store and changes her life forever. It’s beautiful. Haynes shot the movie entirely in 16mm, and it’s just a lush period piece with great performances and a gorgeous score by Carter Burwell. I love this movie. It’s just an amazing film. One of the absolute. best of the year. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the fifth one. Now we’re full on in ‘coasting’ territory with this franchise. Not that they’re phoning it in but that they have it down to such a science that these movies are just great, and you love them and you’re entertained by them and you’re totally all in as you watch them, and you just kind of forget what happens afterward. Four, five, six.. they all blur together. All great… couldn’t really tell you which is which. I think this one’s got the opera sequence? This is the terrorist one with Sean Harris. I think Cruise holds his breath for six minutes in this, though maybe that’s six. Who can remember? Doesn’t really matter, does it? Because all these movies rule. You know they’re the goods and you’re in for a great time, every time This is about as automatic as a franchise can be. 99 Homes is a great adult drama with terrific performances. Andrew Garfield plays a man whose house is foreclosed on, and, in order to provide for his family, goes to work for the guy who is responsible for his house being foreclosed on, Michael Shannon. Shannon plays real estate broker who takes advantage of people about to lose their homes and gets very rich off of it. And so the film is him trying to provide while also making a deal with the devil and doing horrible shit to other people in order to make it happen. It’s a terrific film. Garfield and Shannon are both great. Shannon in particular is absolutely wonderful here. And it’s one of those movies that is just really solid but also kind of like something like House of Sand and Fog, where it’s great, everyone’s great in it, but you can’t help but feel like shit afterward because of all everyone just went through. Still great, though.

The Wrecking Crew is an amazing documentary about the session musicians who helped create some of the greatest songs ever written. Go look up the Wrecking Crew. They’ve got their hands on some masterpieces. Everyone wanted to work with them, because they were the best at what they did. Or, how about this — if you love classic music — 60s, 70s stuff — go watch this documentary. You’ll hear so many great songs and realize, “Oh shit, they did that one too?!” I love seeing stories about how great songs and things came about, and this one is chock full of those stories. This is one of my favorite documentaries of this decade. Joy is David O. Russell. And it’s the fourth on in his series of films all based around the same style. And it’s the one that everyone just kind of decided they were done with. The Fighter… great, refreshing, everyone loved it. Silver Linings… everyone loved it. American Hustle… loved it. This one… ehh. I wonder if that was everyone deciding they were over Jennifer Lawrence, or just the style, or they didn’t click with the story. I have no idea. I don’t get why this one didn’t work because it feels completely of a piece with the other films he made in this period and is perfectly solid. The film is about Joy Mangano, a housewife who struggles to take care of her family but has big ideas, which lead to her creating the Miracle Mop that self-wrings and a whole range of informercial type products that made her wealthy. And I get that on paper, that doesn’t sound that interesting, but also realize… Silver Linings also wasn’t really about anything either. It was about the characters and the dynamic between family members. And that’s what this is. De Niro plays the father again, Bradley Cooper is back, Edgar Ramirez plays her husband, Diane Ladd is her grandmother, Virginia Madsen plays her mother… it’s a solid movie. Lawrence is very good and it’s Russell doing the same thing that worked three previous times. I’ll admit, there’s a bit of diminishing returns with this one, but it’s still a very good movie that seemed to get universally overlooked immediately. Almost as if everyone said, “Welp, immediately not as good as those other three, throw it onto the shit pile.” I’ll never understand how that happens or why the collective is so quick to just go along with it. But this is a very good movie that deserves an audience.

It Follows is one of my favorite horror films of the decade, with an incredible premise. Because it’s just inherently spooky. And, it’s a horror movie with a supernatural element that I can read as being a metaphor for something else. Namely STDs. Maika Monroe (fresh off The Guest) stars, and her character early on has a one night stand with a dude. And afterward he explains that because they slept together, she now has this ‘thing’ following her. Basically, it’s an entity that will appear as a random person, sometimes a friend, sometimes a total stranger. And the being will begin following her, no faster than a walking pace, at any time or any place. And if it catches her, it will kill her. And the only way to get rid of it is to sleep with someone else and pass it along to them. However, if that person gets killed, then it comes back to her. So she needs to sleep with someone and hope that person sleeps with someone else and eventually it gets far enough away from her that it never comes back. And that’s the film. Now, it may not sound that crazy, but just imagine a random person in a crowded place walking very slowly and intently toward you and following you wherever you go. That’s the movie. And it’s really wonderful. I normally hate horror movies, but this is one of the great ones. A Bigger Splash is a remake of the french film La Piscine, and was also the first film that introduced most American filmgoers to Luca Guadagnino. I Am Love made some waves, but really only in the art film crowd. This one started making its way around and people like me went, “That was really good.” And then of course his next film was Call Me By Your Name and that was the one that fully broke him into the mainstream. The film, though, is basically a four-hander. Tilda Swinton plays a rock star who is hiding out in Italy with her husband (Matthias Schoenaerts), trying to get away for a little while. But then, out of nowhere, Ralph Fiennes, her ex-husband shows up with his daughter Dakota Johnson, and they just kind of barge in on the vacation. And that’s it. That’s the film. The four of them sharing the same house, with little tensions and history starting to bubble to the surface. It’s really good. Swinton is great because she doesn’t speak for basically the entire film (since her character is resting her vocal chords to heal them), and Fiennes just absolutely steals the show for every minute he’s on screen. He does a dance to “Emotional Rescue” that is just the highlight of the film. This movie is just really terrific and is one of the nice gems of the decade that I imagine people will come around to when they look up Guadagnino and see the cast, but one you should get a jump on now and see before that happens.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a Guy Ritchie-directed adaptation of the TV show, which was a 60s show based around an American agent and a Russian agent who have to work together. It’s designed to be his version of Kingsman, which came out the same time as Kingsman and was dismissed in the wake of Kingsman as not being very good. But I’ll be honest… I enjoy it more than Kingsman. I’m not gonna try to argue that it’s a better movie, I just enjoy it more. Henry Cavill plays Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer plays Illya Kuryakin, and it’s just a fun ass movie. It’s almost like a live action episode of Archer. Alicia Vikander (smack dab in the middle of the ‘year of Alicia’) is great, you’ve got Elizabeth Debicki as the villain, you’ve got Hugh Grant and Jared Harris. It’s just a delight of a film. Most people will prefer Kingsman, but I’m firmly in this movie’s camp. Black Mass is Scott Cooper’s third film. Crazy Heart was his first, Out of the Furnace was his second. This is a biopic of Whitey Bulger starring Johnny Depp. Most people know about it because even if you only saw the poster, the image of Depp in that makeup with the shaved back hairline is pretty memorable. The rest of the cast is amazing, as one would expect from a Scott Cooper movie — Jesse Plemons, Dakota Johnson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Joel Edgerton, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson, Bill Camp and Juno Temple. And it’s really good. I will admit that after a while it feels like a repeat of the same scene over and over — Depp comes in all weird and charming, and then someone says something and immediately he turns icy cold and you know he’s gonna kill someone at the end of the scene — but admittedly, it’s a really good scene. So I’m fine with it. Cooper has made nothing less than really solid films to this point, and this fits right in with the rest of them. The man just makes good movies. Magic Mike XXL is the sequel. And I love it more than the first one. Because now that they’ve established the characters and the stripping, they can dispense with trying to tell a story and just hang out and give you more of what you want. So instead of the dark subplot with the kid and the drugs, now you get scenes where they all take ecstasy or where Joe Manganiello dances in a convenience store to “I Want It That Way” (which is a strong contender for best single scene of 2015, by the way). The film is a road trip — they get the band back together to go to some big stripping competition. Which is just an excuse to have them go places and hang out and do more dancing. It’s awesome. It’s really awesome. Few movies were as fun for me this year as this one.

The Lobster is a Yorgos Lanthimos film, and finally that means something! Dogtooth was its own thing, but a lot of people still don’t know about that movie. But this was the first one where everyone took notice. People like me, who sort of knew Dogtooth when this came out, heard that it was by that guy and the premise and went, “That sounds so fucked up, I’m totally in.” And a nice amount of people saw this because of the premise and the cast. And now that he’s made The Favourite, people are all in his stuff. Finally. So the premise is that, in a dystopian future, all people must be in a relationship or married to another person. And if they are not, they are taken to a hotel. And there, they must find a partner within a certain amount of time. And if they do not, they are turned into an animal of their choosing (hence the title). And it is a weird, dark, fucked up little comedy. The Favourite is Yorgos’ most commercial film. Something like this, because it has Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in it, is kind of mainstream, but it’s in that Killing of a Sacred Deer kind of realm, where the tone is so unique and so weird that it might not register with everyone else. Because the performance style is so specific that some people just won’t wanna go along with it. But it’s a hilarious movie. I love Yorgos. His movies are just so wonderful. This is probably his most mainstream next to The Favourite, which is hilarious to even think of because of how weird this movie is. Everest is based on the Jon Krakauer book “Into Thin Air,” about a group of people climbing up Everest (Krakauer happens to be one of them) who encounter disaster. It’s fantastic. I love mountain climbing movies, and this one is just a solid thriller about the bad shit that happens when you climb mountains. I think the reason no one really saw this is because it’s in that gray area where it’s not really an action movie and it’s not exactly a big classy piece of cinema that’s stunningly made (because the director is just a capable filmmaker and not exactly a visual marvel). It looks great and the cast is great and it totally works fine, but it is admittedly just kind of there. (Which, is exactly why you climb mountains in the first place, zing!)

– – – – – – – – – –

Tier three:

  • Amy
  • Beasts of No Nation
  • Cop Car
  • Dope
  • Entertainment
  • Grandma
  • Infinitely Polar Bear
  • Jurassic World
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Look Who’s Back
  • A Man Called Ove
  • Roger Waters The Wall
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • Tangerine
  • Time Out of Mind
  • Trumbo
  • Victoria
  • The Voices
  • Youth
  • Z for Zachariah

Victoria is a film shot in a single, continuous take. Not one designed to look like it was… it actually was. And it’s not something like Russian Ark, which is inside a museum and has full control of its elements. This one takes place partially outside. This is really an impressive feat. It stars Laia Costa as a Spanish woman in Berlin who goes out clubbing and hooks up with a guy and his friends. And what starts out as a regular night out turns into something much more dangerous, and pretty soon she’s gotta find a way to get out of it alive. It’s awesome. Trust me on this one. Even if you’re not totally in on the plot, the fact that they legitimately shot it in one single take. They filmed it three times and got it on the third take. And it’s 134 minutes. It’s not some 80-minute single take. They went all out with it. And it’s truly one of the most impressive films of the decade, even if it is based on a gimmick. Time Out of Mind is an Oren Moverman film that stars Richard Gere as a homeless man. And that’s pretty much the film. It’s Gere being homeless. There’s other stuff, like his relationship with the other homeless people at the shelter and him trying to fix his relationship with his daughter, but largely it’s just him being homeless, and it’s a really strong film. Gere delivers another wonderful performance that flies under the radar (to go along with his great performances in The Hoax, The Hunting Party, Arbitrage and Norman) and it’s just a really good piece of work. Kingsman: The Secret Service is Matthew Vaughn’s version of James Bond. Just more comic book-y. It’s a kid training to be a super secret agent. And it’s got a lot of cool stuff. Great action, that cool front with the gentleman’s suit store. It’s just a fun movie that spawned a fun franchise. Amy is a documentary about Amy Winehouse, directed by the guy who made Senna. It won the Oscar for Best Documentary, and it’s great. Not much more I need to do to sell this one. Roger Waters The Wall is a concert film with Roger Waters performing the entire Wall album, interspersed with little scenes and things to fill out the time. But basically you’re just watching the man perform one of the greatest albums ever written, and that is more than good enough for me.

The Voices is one of my favorite scripts I’ve ever read. I thought it could never get made, and then out of nowhere I heard they were making it and immediately thought, “There’s no way they could make that work.” And surprisingly… they almost make it work. It’s impossible to truly make the tone of that script work, but they do their damndest and the result is a fascinatingly fucked up movie. So the script/film is about a guy who, at the beginning of the story, seems like a perfectly normal, if slightly off-center guy who just seems… odd. And he’s got a regular office job and has a crush on another girl at the office and everything seems kind of standard. And then he goes home and starts talking to his roommates, and one of them is being super positive about the whole thing and the other is being crude and tells him to stop being such a pussy. Like most movies you’d see… only then we find out that his roommates are his dog and his cat. See, dude’s psychotic and he actually can hear his pets talk to him. And the dog is just super nice and supportive, while the cat is an evil fuck. And the movie is about the guy trying to make things work with the girl he has a crush on… and then things going horribly wrong and several murders accidentally (or on purpose) being committed and things really just spiraling out of control. It’s a really fucked up little movie. Ryan Reynolds stars (while also voicing the pets, naturally), along with Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick, and it’s directed by Marjane Satrapi, who made Persepolis. I can’t say the movie is perfect, but it’s weird and different, and for that I think people should see it. After you see it, then we can talk about what I think the script achieves better and how fucked up that is, but the movie itself is worth it if you like weird and fucked up. Straight Outta Compton is the biopic of NWA. Not sure what else to add except this movie is awesome as shit and has some amazing scenes in it of them coming up with their best songs. I felt like people overrated this one a bit when it came out, but if that’s what it took to get more eyeballs on it, that’s fine. It’s hard not to like this movie.

Cop Car is just a joy ride of a movie. Which, fittingly enough, is about a joy ride. It’s about two troublemaking kids who steal a sheriff’s cop car and take it out for a spin. Kevin Bacon plays the sheriff, and it turns out… he doesn’t anyone to know his car’s been stolen, because there’s some other shit going on that the kids don’t know about. And it turns into a really dangerous situation for them if he catches up to them. It’s a really good movie. Bacon is tremendous, and the direction by Jon Watts is just terrific. This movie got him Spider-Man, that’s how good it is. It’s a straight 90 minute indie that movies and is really good. A perfect little movie. Beasts of No Nation is the very first Netflix Original movie. And we all know that because it was such a big deal at the time. They paid an insane amount of money for exclusive distribution rights to release it on the platform rather than in theaters like would normally happen. So the result was a lot of press but not so many awards nominations, which you feel would have probably happened were it released the ‘traditional’ way. But all that said, it’s an incredible film. It’s about a child soldier in Africa, and you have Idris Elba as the Joseph Kony-type character. And he’s the best thing about the film. Most people feel he’d have won the Oscar had he been nominated. It’s a fantastic film. I don’t think that over time this will remain among a lot of people’s favorite films of the year, but I think we all agree that it’s a tremendous piece of work and a really solid film.

Tangerine is the movie that broke Sean Baker as a filmmaker and showed what can happen with no money. The constant story for this one was that it was shot entirely on an iPhone. And that’s cool. You can make good-looking films on iPhones. However, it’s also a function of the story that’s being told. And that’s what makes this film so great. It takes place in a two-mile radius in Hollywood (fun fact: I worked about four blocks from there and live not too far, though the donut shop is long gone, probably owing to this movie) and stars two trans hookers. The story is about one of them, just released from prison who finds out that her boyfriend/pimp has taken up with a new girl. And it’s just so vibrant and real. It helps if you’re familiar with that specific area of Los Angeles to know that this sort of stuff isn’t that far removed from what might happen there, but also just a great movie that feels like it was filmed, on the fly, by an iPhone, simply catching real action as it happened on the street. It’s an amazing piece of work and establishes Baker as a true filmmaking talent (which he completely capitalized on with The Florida Project). A Man Called Ove is a Swedish film that was nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature about a grumpy old man. That’s it. His wife died, and he’s just that curmudgeonly old dude who complains about minor rules infractions in his community. He’s that guy. But of course, he’s gonna learn to soften up around his new neighbors. It’s a sweet little film. It’s very likable. They were even gonna (or maybe even still are) remake it with Tom Hanks in the title role. If you’re into foreign films, this is one of the good ones.

Look Who’s Back is one of the great premises of all time. It’s based on a book, and it’s about: what if Hitler came back today? That is, what if Hitler woke up today, with no memory of what happened since he shot himself, and was just around in today’s world? So of course he can’t understand what the fuck is going on with society, but also, everyone else around him… they think it’s hilarious. They think he’s some actor doing a bit. And so he inadvertently becomes a media sensation. Because people think he’s a comedian. And then he starts building a fan base… you can see where things would go. The movie is a comedy, so it doesn’t totally dwell on the potential dark side of the premise as much as it could (or maybe it should). But on the base premise alone, it’s just a hilarious concept that leads to a very amusing movie. Not a perfect film, but, with a premise like that, how can you not want to check it out? Youth is a Paolo Sorrentino film with Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel. And that’s the film. Two old dudes on vacation at an Italian villa. Caine is a famous composer and Keitel a famous director. And they’re just ruminating on getting old. Rachel Weisz plays Caine’s daughter, Dano plays an actor shooting a role in Italy and Jane Fonda plays an actress famous for being in Keitel’s last couple of movies. It’s really solid. I like the director and I like all the people involved. It’s just a solid movie. Infinitely Polar Bear is a wonderful indie starring Mark Ruffalo as a bipolar man trying to contain his illness and resume caring for his two daughters. Zoe Saldana plays his wife and his older daughter is played by Imogene Wolodarsky, daughter of the film’s writer/director, Maya Forbes. It’s a wonderful film with great performances by those three actors. I really like this one.

Grandma is a wonderful little indie. It’s short, only like 80 minutes, too. It stars Lily Tomlin as an aging hippy lesbian whose granddaughter, Julia Garner, shows up looking for some money to get an abortion. And the film is about Grandma taking Granddaughter to go raise some money for an abortion. And it’s wonderful. It’s really wonderful. It’s short and to the point, and both Tomlin and Garner are fantastic in it. Trumbo is a biopic of Dalton Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston. If you don’t know, Trumbo is a writer who was famously blacklisted in the 50s because of communist leanings and kept writing scripts, though not under his own name. He even won two Oscars (one for Roman Holiday!) while blacklisted, with the credits going to other writers. It’s kind of a one man show for Cranston, who gets to chew into the part and eat some scenery and all that. It’s a solid movie. Nothing too memorable, but solid for people who are into the Old Hollywood thing in movies. Jurassic World is the soft reboot of the franchise. Which is basically what every Jurassic Park movie is: “The same shit is happening again because people are stupid and keep going back there.” This one’s about them building a theme park on the island, having contained the dinosaurs. But surprise! They’re gonna get out! It’s actually a really fun movie, even if it does quite literally set the first movie on fire. It’s no Spielberg movie, but it’s solid. It felt like a good, if too nostalgic, version of what you’d want out of this kind of movie. The sequel I cannot vouch for, but this one is good.

Entertainment is one of the weirdest movies I saw this year, but I love it. It’s an existential comedy that works purely because of its star, Gregg Turkington, who has created this alternate comedic persona called Neil Hamburger. And the premise is, dude goes on stage with full combover (like, Ernie McCracken combover) multiple drinks in his hands and telling completely (and deliberately) hokey style jokes that were dated even when they were topical. And that’s the joke. He’s deliberately bad, and that’s what makes him hilarious. So you follow this guy as he goes on a tour of the southwest, doing shows and trying to stave off boredom (or existential dread). And it’s just fucking weird. The humor is very surreal and deadpan, and it’s one of those movies where most people would go, “What the hell is this?” But I watched it, saw the Hamburger parts and laughed my fucking ass off. It’s so funny watching him do that comedy bit. The rest of the movie is good too, but it’s that character that I love most. Z for Zachariah is a post-apocalyptic three-hander. Literally three people in the entire film. And only two for the first like, thirty-to-forty minutes. Premise is, most of the population of earth is dead. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Margot Robbie are among two of the very few people left. And they’re building a little life for themselves. And they are living quietly and comfortably and relatively happily. And then Chris Pine shows up. And now, what was two people is now three. And a love triangle ensues. It’s a really solid film anchored by three good actors. Dope is a movie whose title describe itself. It’s just awesome. It’s a bunch of teens growing up in South Central who have an affinity for 90s rap culture. And it’s just a coming of age story. Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revelori star, and it’s just a joy of a movie. Straight up one of the best movies you’ll see from 2015.

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Tier four:

  • Ant-Man
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Chi-Raq
  • Christmas Again
  • The Danish Girl
  • Danny Collins
  • Faults
  • Furious 7
  • Iris
  • Legend
  • Macbeth
  • McFarland USA
  • Mississippi Grind
  • Mr. Holmes
  • Mustang
  • Night Owls
  • The Second Mother
  • Spy
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • Tale of Tales

Chi-Raq is a Spike Lee movie and something I was not expecting. It’s an adaptation of the Greek play Lysistrata, set on the South Side of Chicago. The dialogue is exactly the same as the play, which makes it all stand out. It’s almost like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet. The premise of the play is also wonderfully adaptable, which makes it a good fit for what Spike is trying to do: basically, all the women are fed up with the men killing each other that they decide to withhold sex until they get their acts together. It’s a great idea and Spike makes it very enjoyable to watch while still getting his point across. He’s been hit and miss over the past 20 years with all his stuff, but this is one of the really good ones. Mr. Holmes is a Bill Condon-directed film starring Ian McKellen (they did Gods and Monsters together as well) with McKellen starring as Sherlock Holmes, who is now in his 90s, retired and starting to go senile. And it’s about him trying to solve one last case, the only case he was ever unable to solve. McKellen is really good and it’s just a solid adult drama. Macbeth is the play being directed gorgeously by Justin Kurzel and starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Not much else to add. Great actors giving great performances in a play everyone knows and stunning cinematography (the final battle sequence is not to be missed). It’s just a really good adaptation of the play.

Tale of Tales is a crazy movie. The director of Gomorrah made a movie that’s basically a selection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but if they were told with no embellishment. Because a lot of those fairy tales are fucked up and brutal, and this is exactly that. It looks amazing, though. The opening five minutes have John C. Reilly fighting a sea monster. One of the stories is about a king who becomes obsessed with a giant flea. And another is about an ugly woman who captures the attentions of an adulterous king. And then the flea king’s daughter who ends up being taken by a giant. Salma Hayek is a queen who is obsessed with staying young and is eating hearts. It’s all sorts of fucked up. But also kind of awesome. It has one of my favorite scenes in all of the decade, where a king calls his guards in to rid him of an undesirable, and rather than do it in any polite way, they just fucking throw the person out the window. Which made me burst out laughing. But yeah, it’s a weird as hell movie that I really enjoy because it’s just so different and unique. Mississippi Grind is a great character drama directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Captain Marvel), and probably my favorite of their films. Ben Mendelsohn plays a degenerate gambler who can’t help but fuck everything up each time he gets a little luck. And he teams up with Ryan Reynolds, a cocky upstart, and the two go on a road trip to try to win some money. It’s a really nice film, and Mendelsohn is absolutely terrific here. Definitely recommend this one.

Danny Collins is a movie that it took me a little bit to come around on, but the watchability factor is what ultimately got it on here. The film is based on a real incident, though highly fictionalized from there. It’s based on a musician who found, among his things, a letter John Lennon sent to him years earlier that he never knew about. So what they did was take that premise and create this film. Here, Al Pacino plays an aging singer (clearly based on Neil Diamond, especially when you hear the song for which he’s most famous) who is now playing to older audiences but still partying and sleeping around like he’s in his 20s and 30s. But then he finds the letter that Lennon wrote to him and it makes him reflect on his life and the choices he’s made. So instead of going on to his next tour stop, he goes to the home of his estranged son and his family to try to make amends for being a shitty father. Bobby Cannavale plays the son and Jennifer Garner plays his wife. And Cannavale, naturally, wants nothing to do with this man who was barely in his life for all those years. He’s overworked, has to deal with his daughter’s learning disability and he’s worried about a medical situation that he’s keeping everyone. And that’s why I like this movie. It’s a character piece. It has the scenes you’d expect — Pacino flirting with Annette Bening, the nice, age-appropriate hotel concierge who pretends like she isn’t interested in him but really is– but also has some really nice father-son moments. I’ll admit, I didn’t think too much of this movie when it came out, but as I’ve gone back home over the past couple of years, my mother has had this on TV a bunch and I’ve found myself floating in and out and seeing it on and watching it at times. And I find myself being really engaged by it. Which, to me, is the hallmark of a good movie. So I think this is a worthwhile film for people to watch and that, while it’s not perfect, there’s a lot of good here.

Legend is a Brian Helgeland-directed film (he wrote L.A. Confidential and directed Payback, which I love, 42 and A Knight’s Tale) and stars Tom Hardy as both Kray twins. And, if you don’t know who the Krays are… well, you’re probably American, and also look them up. It’s a very Tom Hardy kind of role. And that’s the film… it’s literally just Tom Hardy playing these two guys. I don’t even know what the specific story is because the entire film is literally just watching Tom Hardy be great twice. And trust me, it’s so worth it. If for some reason you didn’t know Tom Hardy was one of our finest actors, this’ll go a long way to proving that. Spy is the one Melissa McCarthy movie that I actually like. I was shocked when this came out when I didn’t hate it. It’s a spy comedy where she plays assistant to, basically, James Bond, played here by Jude Law, and helps him get through his missions by doing all the leg work that he’s too busy being a playboy to do. But then he goes missing and she ends up volunteering to go into the field and help stop a global terrorist. So of course it’s got all the comedic elements of that… the middle-aged woman being forced to become a spy. But it’s actually a really funny movie. Specifically with two performances: Rose Byrne and Jason Statham. Byrne is the villain and is absolutely hilarious and Statham plays another agent who… it’s better to just see what he does. He’s so over the top hilarious here and perfectly undermines his status as an action star. I’m the first person to shit on Melissa McCarthy comedies, but I’ll also be the first one to admit when I’m wrong about something, and this is a very funny movie. Mustang is one of the best foreign films of the decade. It was nominated for Foreign Language Film but stood no chance against Son of Saul. It’s about a group of girls who live with a very strict family who are seen playing on the beach, unsupervised, with boys. Their parents freak out and immediately confine them to the house and slowly begin marrying them off one by one. And it’s about the girls trying to maintain their independence and fight for their own personal freedoms. It’s a tremendous film and I highly recommend people see it.

McFarland USA is a Kevin Costner sports movie. And he doesn’t make much of those. Look back over his filmography — Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Tin Cup, For Love of the Game, Draft Day, this. The first three are just great films. These other three have great stories. Time will tell how great they are, but all three of them feature decently on my top ten lists in various places because they’re all eminently watchable, even if they won’t be as agreed upon as those first three are. Costner plays a football coach who is basically kicked out of the sport who becomes a high school track coach for a school with no chance at competing against the top track teams. But, it’s a sports movie, so I bet you can guess where it goes! It’s really likable. Niki Caro directs. She made Whale Rider, North Country and the Mulan remake, and just turns this into a very charming little movie. It’s never gonna be in anyone’s top ten, but I guarantee you that if you stumble across this movie on cable and watch it, you’ll come out going, “That was good.” And that’s what we should dream of as film fans. The Stanford Prison Experiment is based on the titular experiment in which psychologists took a group of people and are randomly assigned to either play prisoners or guards in a simulation of a working prison, and then are left to inhabit their roles. And the experiment details the lengths in which people go when given power and authority over others. It’s a really fucked up simulation, for one, and what actually happens (and happened) is even more fucked up. This is a crazy story. The movie is just solid and probably could have been much better. But still, it’s a worthwhile watch that definitely makes you think about human behavior.

Night Owls is an indie dramedy that is kind of reminiscent of the best parts of The Apartment. Adam Pally plays a guy who has a one night stand with a woman who turns out to be his boss’s ex-mistress. But then she takes a bunch of sleeping pills, so he’s forced to keep her awake the whole night while also evaluating whose side of this he’s on. It’s a really sweet little movie with a fantastic performance by Rosa Salazar. It’s definitely one of those movies you have to go out of your way for, but it’s very worth it. The Danish Girl is a Tom Hooper film, and admittedly one that some people might balk at watching because it sounds overly done and Oscar bait-y. And in a way, they’re kind of right. But Hooper makes good movies and keeps this one from going too far over the edge, which it’s almost begging to do at times. It’s based on a true story about a painter born male who realizes she is much more comfortable identifying as a woman. And it’s about her journey to self-realization with the help of her wife, even in the face of society, which does not take kindly to these things (it still isn’t great, so imagine what it was like a hundred years ago). Eddie Redmayne stars and Alicia Vikander plays the wife. Vikander won an Oscar for this (though it was mostly a cumulative Oscar for the year she had), and both actors are very good. The sets and costumes are lush and Hooper’s direction is tender, though I get that not everyone is gonna love this one. The Second Mother is a great foreign film from this year that almost no one remembers because it never got the big Foreign Language nomination. It’s about a woman who has been working as the housekeeper to a rich family for years and they constantly tell her that she’s family and that they love her and all that. But then her actual daughter shows up, and the unspoken class barriers that exist within the home start to come to the forefront. It’s a really strong drama. Furious 7 — daddy’s gotta go to work. It’s just a balls to the wall fun thrill ride that refocuses the series yet again (because one of its leads died). I’m here for the mayhem, others are here for the cheesy ending. To each their own.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is the second one, and brought most people to where I pretty much was on these movies to begin with. It’s just too much. It’s an orgy of characters and noise. There’s only so many different parings of who’s fighting who before I just tune out. The plot is important for the development of the characters, but that’s about it. It’s about them having created their own villain. Stark tries to create something that will help protect the world from alien threats, and instead the A.I. becomes too advanced, takes its own bodily form and decides it’s gonna destroy the earth. Standard superhero stuff. It’s got moments. All these movies have their moments. But it, to me, ranks in the lower tier stuff for them. It’s just kind of entertaining while not really giving me anything that makes me want to watch it again. I like it when they do smaller, contained stuff. And speaking of which… Ant-Man. It takes place in its own little cul-de-sac within the Marvel Universe. Kind of like their best films do (Spider-Man 1, Guardians, even Ragnarok). It’s contained, and it’s smaller. The third act isn’t some big beam of light in the sky and the potential end of the world The third act of this movie takes place in a child’s bedroom on a train set. And it’s just a charming movie. Paul Rudd is an ex-con who happens upon (read: steals) a suit that allows its user to shrink down to the size of an ant. And then Michael Douglas, the guy who created it, decides to teach him how to use it and makes him into a superhero. It’s just a fun movie. Rudd is fantastic and I like that they don’t do anything insane with the film, set piece wise. It’s not tip top Marvel, but it’s solidly above-average Marvel, and it’s nice when they do these changes of pace.

Christmas Again is a completely unknown little indie that I saw on a whim and liked a lot. It’s about a guy who works selling Christmas trees during the holiday season. He lives in a trailer and works the overnight shift, meaning his existence is basically sitting in a little trailer, eating TV dinners and occasionally selling a tree or two, with as little human contact as possible. And of course he’s doing it to get away from what happened to him elsewhere, and the film is about him learning to trust people again. It’s a really nice little indie that’s only about 80 minutes long and well worth your time. Faults is a great little indie with a fantastic lead performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. It’s about a family who hires a man who debunks brainwashing and mind control to help save their daughter from a cult. Leland Orser plays the man and Winstead plays the daughter. So he basically kidnaps her from the street and brings her to a motel, and spends the rest of the film trying to break her from whatever the cult did to her. But of course it’s not as simple as it seems. It’s a really good movie and both leads are great, but Winstead in particular is fantastic, keeping with her run of great movies and performances that were severely underrated and underseen.Iris a documentary (the last Maysles documentary, by the way, before Albert died in 2015) about fashion icon Iris Apfel. Who I imagine a lot of people aren’t gonna know and who, I’ll admit, I didn’t know before this documentary. She’s a woman who will turn 100 in 2021 who is just this firecracker of a woman. And the documentary is just about her. She is interesting enough to have her own documentary. Trust me. It’s not just the fashion. It’s who she is as a person. It’s a lovely documentary that even people who don’t necessarily even like documentaries will be entertained by.

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