Monday, May 22, 2017

The 25 Best Movies of 2015

My MS Paint skills are impeccable, ain't they?

Okay, maybe not. Let's move on.

A few weeks back, I handed out The Dellies for the year 2015. As usual, there was no Best Picture winner because I was saving that for this post. If you're wondering what took me so long to get to 2015, I was sticking to a personal rule. I don't post The Dellies or my best of list until after I've seen at least 100 films released within a calendar year and all of the films nominated for Best Picture at that year's Oscars. For 2015, I'm working with a pool of 120 movies to this point. Strangely, for me, I did not write a review for every film. Trust me, these all moved me just the same. The only caveat for my list is that I decided a few years ago to not include documentaries. Since I watched a baker's dozen of those, that knocks my total down to 107. With no further adieu, here are what I think were

The 25 Best Movies of 2015

Stuff I heard was good, but I haven't gotten to yet: The Assassin, Clouds of Sils Maria, The Duke of Burgundy, The End of the Tour, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Gift, Joy, Macbeth, Mistress America, Paddington, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Slow West, The Tribe, While We're Young, White God, Youth.

25. Spotlight
Unlike many movies, the ending is irrelevant. This movie is about the journey, and a wonderful journey it is. The whole cast shines in what truly is a group effort.

24. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
J.J. Abrams recaptures what George Lucas lost in making the prequels. Abrams understands that the magic of Star Wars comes from the excitement generated by events, the frontline battles between good and evil, not the verbose politicking that leads to them. To keep us from going down the latter path, he gives us a treasure hunt wrapped in a chase movie.

23. Maggie
Maggie is set in a world currently being taken over by zombies. However, the characters within are people tucked away in the folds of the earth, trying to eke out a quiet existence. It’s a task made much more difficult when that world interferes. (Full Review)

22. Carol
The dynamic between these two women is never anything less than believable thanks to stellar work turned in by both Mara and Blanchett. It's an excellent film about two women who are diametrically opposed in numerous ways. (Quick & Dirty Review)

21. The Final Girls
This is whip smart, really digging into genre tropes and extracting laughter. It manages to do this right through to the end. When we get there, it gives us what might be the best gag of them all. Any slasher flick worth its exceedingly sharp garden tool makes sure to leave the door open for a sequel. This movie does it in a way that makes so much sense you don't see it coming, if that makes sense. (Full Review)

20. Kingsman: The Secret Service
for every part of this two hour joyride it's tongue is firmly in its cheek. It not only makes jokes all along the way, it invites the audience to be in on it. It's completely aware of its own ridiculousness and takes things to the level of being a spoof of super spy flicks, particularly James Bond movies. (Full Review)

19. Inside Out
It’s also something most movies can’t claim to be these days: original. It takes what could be a simple, straight-forward story, adds layers, raises stakes, and delivers a heartfelt, often overlooked message. (Quick & Dirty Review)

18. The Hateful Eight
Tarantino returns to the world of Django Unchained, sans Django, of course. He then goes about the business of locking us up in a room with a bunch of very mean people. The trick is getting us to care about any of them. He does it, all while cranking up the tension as we go along.

17. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
It follows the zombie template pretty closely, and does next to nothing new from a narrative standpoint. As they say, the devil is in the details. This is where Scouts Guide earns its keep. The way this film gets our heroes out of the predicaments it puts them in is ingenious. (Full Review)

16. Goodnight Mommy
The trick it pulls is that it doesn't matter what you think actually happened, it's discomfiting, but if viewed from a certain viewpoint, a happy ending. This makes the final thirty minutes of Goodnight Mommy the most visceral movie experience I've had in quite some time. (Full Review)

15. Anomalisa
This is a beautiful film about a guy living on autopilot. He is in the same position as many of us, and leaps at the opportunity to break up the monotony. It goes places most animated features wouldn't dare, particularly American ones, to give us something more human than the vast majority of live-action fare. In the end, it's clever, insightful, and oh so bittersweet.

14. Diary of a Teenage Girl
As a dad of teenage girls, this is a tough, tough watch, but one that might be necessary. The writing is excellent and the performance by Bel Powley is outstanding. In a very different role than what we're accustomed to seeing her in, Kristen Wiig is equally excellent as the coke-snorting Charlotte. (Quick & Dirty Review)

13. Turbo Kid
Geysers of blood are spraying all over the screen. The jokes are killing me. I mean, KILLING me. In other words I’m all amped up during the action scenes and laughing my ass off between them. When blood splatters all over the place or something else happens that looks just like it would have in a real 80s movie, I’m tickled to no end. (Full Review)

12. Tangerine
The subject matter may not be suitable for a giant corporation’s ad campaign, but it provides us with an endlessly interesting film. The people in it are not bound by the stereotypes of ‘what’ they are, but allow us to see ‘who’ they are. In doing so we become riveted by and invested in their plight. Our empathy is rewarded with a plethora of emotions to deal with. (Full Review)

11. Straight Outta Compton
It is a feel-good story that we can’t deny. We rally around their cause, root against their enemies, and hope they can patch things up before it’s too late. We have a blast with their music because regardless of how we felt about it before, the added context of the world that created them turns songs that might seem vulgar and obscene for the sake of being so into battle cries of the downtrodden. (Full Review)

10. Creed
Director Ryan Coogler creates two bonds. The first is between his characters. Second is between his characters and us in the audience. Like the seventh film in any franchise, he builds this installment from mostly recycled parts. It could have been a passion-free artless copy and paste job lacking both a soul and an understanding of what made the original great in the first place. That would have been par for the reboot course. Instead, Coogler crafts the heap of scraps into a loving tribute that still manages to be its own wonderful thing. (Full Review)

9. Sicario
The tension is nearly unbearable and never lets up. The story is confusing, but in the best way possible. The action on display is brutal. It's another win for director Denis Villenueve, who is fast becoming one of my favorites. Emily Blunt is fantastic, as is Josh Brolin. However, Benicio del Toro steals the show. (Quick & Dirty Review)

8. Mad Max: Fury Road
This is the type of film where the story is incidental to the movie as a whole. To the extent there is a plot, it's draped loosely over a string of big action set pieces. It's barely coherent enough to follow, but that's not nearly as big a detriment as it is for most movies. What's here is a marvelous visual spectacle. Both kinetic and inventive, what's presented to us is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to tear your eyes from. (Full Review)

7. It Follows
A brilliant dissertation on what it means to young and sexually active in the 2010s. By now, most of us fully expect our virtual world to intersect with our physical reality at various points. We understand that online dating, STDs, ill-advised and leaked selfies, revenge porn, faceless stalkers and predators, date rape, and other horrors are not necessarily mutually exclusive events. What we don’t always understand is our own vulnerability to many of these things. ‘It won’t happen to me’ is a common refrain of those who engage in reckless behavior both on an offline. This is powerfully recreated in the universe the film presents to us. The random, shape-shifting killer that relentlessly pursues our heroine is representative of any and all of it. (Full Review)

6. Room
In movies dealing with similar subject matter, the norm is to weave the two parts of the tale together through the use of flashbacks. The other way to go is focusing solely on the lead up to the escape and ending the movie with that as its climax. Going in either direction would be acceptable and may have yielded a perfectly fine movie. Splitting the film in half, the way he does, is risky, but it pays off. Along with his leading lady, director Lenny Abrahamson forces us to empty our emotions early, only to build them up and empty them again. By the end, we're spent, yet cautiously optimistic. (Full Review)

5. Dope
The events of the film serve as a microcosm for the survival they fight for every day in a world where that's not always guaranteed. They also raise an interesting question: do the ends always justify the means? The movie certainly says yes, and presents it in such a way that we have no choice but to go along with that line of thinking. It helps that "the end" is a rather lofty goal. Then again, making Dope was lofty to begin with. We have a main character that works hard to defy stereotypes and is totally aware of the fact. Perhaps that's part of the film's success. Malcolm is a person who is highly relatable to those who do not look like him. Famuyiwa is to be commended for giving us such a character in a climate that still markets movies based on constrictive demographics. In the face of this he makes a film that is fun, has some interesting things to say, and is far more universal than it might appear at first glance. (Full Review)

4. The Revenant
Amazingly, this is based on a true story. DiCaprio and Hardy make a great pair of adversaries with each man playing their part to perfection. Hardy gives us a wonderfully wicked villain. DiCaprio doesn't give us a hero as much as he does a man just trying not to die. The cinematography on display is absolutely gorgeous, perfectly capturing the terrain these men are travelling, as well as some unflinchingly brutal violence. Kudos to Emmanuel Lubezki for that. Double kudos to director Alejandro G. Iñárritu for pulling this all together. He made this one about as tense as it gets, folks. (Quick & Dirty Review)

3. Mustang
The real stars might be the director Deniz Gamze Ergüven and her two cinematographers, David Chizallet and Ersin Gok. Ergüven, incredibly making her debut, directs with a sense of whimsy, but manages not to belittle the situation in which the sisters find themselves. Chizallet and Gok shoot the film in a way that distorts our spatial awareness in delightful ways. The home where the girls are essentially trapped feels both expansive and claustrophobic, depending on what the plot needs at a particular moment. They do this without it ever feeling gimmicky and serving the story to perfection. The result is a film that's smart, funny, and a girl-power flick of the highest order. (Quick & Dirty Review)

2. Beasts of No Nation
It drops the main character, and us in the audience, into the middle of a war zone. However, the battles raging are not just merely swirling about him as he tries to navigate it, he is an active participant. We watch as the level of his willingness to take part swells while the boy he once was gets buried deeper and deeper within him. In the bad guy role, Idris Elba pulls off the difficult trick of creating a character who is simultaneously magnetic and repulsive, and fully believes he is on the side of the righteous. Not to be outdone, young star Abraham Attah is a revelation in the lead. As far as coming of age tales go, this one is as harrowing as any ever told.

1. Ex Machina
We know that she's a robot, but we're trying to see how human her reactions are. We're checking to see if she really exhibits the human capacity for learning and the depth for emotion. We do this subconsciously by convincing ourselves those are just the things he is looking for without realizing we're doing the same thing. When this movie ends, we're not sure whether it's a good thing, or not. What does it mean for her? More importantly, what does it mean for us?

Honorable Mentions: American Ultra, Ant-Man, The Big Short, Black Mass, Bridge of Spies, Honeymoon (Luna de miel), The Invitation, Magic Mike XXL, The Martian, The Peanuts Movie.

For the flipside - The 20 Worst Movies of 2015

Click below for the best of...


  1. I'd order them differently, of course, and there are some here I haven't seen. I just watched It Follows and enjoyed the hell out of it.

    Room, which I thought had real plot problems, wouldn't make my list. The Big Short probably would, as would Brooklyn and The Martian, which I love because I'm a NASA junkie. I'd also include When Marnie Was There, which I highly recommend.

    This might sound weird, but as a middle-aged, rap-neutral white guy (I'm two shades away from translucent), I'd rank Straight Outta Compton higher than you did.

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed It Follows.

      The Big Short narrowly missed my list and The Martian was a few spots below that. Brooklyn...sigh...didn't work for me, at all. I was really close to putting it on my worst list.

      And I'm cool with that. Straight Outta Compton is a highly effective film.

  2. Excellent list. My list is still ongoing as it's always changing as I'm now fortunate to still have a local library that carry some films I haven't seen yet which I am hoping to rectify in the coming months.

    1. The local library has been a great resource for me. Take advantage of it.

  3. Terrific list! As I got near the end, I thought, "No way, I would've put Room in the #1 spot." But Ex Machina? Fair enough. I haven't seen your #2, #3, or #4, but Dope was definitely one of my favorites of the year. My older teens enjoyed it too.

    1. Room was certainly a contender for my top spot. I don't think there's much of a gap in quality between 1 & 6, and that's a good thing. Dope = yes.

  4. I've seen some of the movies listed and enjoyed them like The Kingsmen. I still have to see Room. I'm not sure I would put Ex Machina at #1 but that's why we lose is so subjective as well. I didn't care for Carol at all and thought it was just a more modern reselling of A Streetcar Named Desire.

    1. Fair point about Carol, never thought of it from that perspective. I'm cool with that. After all, I have The Force Awakens and that's more or less an update of the original Star Wars.

  5. There's so many great films on this list. I need to re-watch Carol. I read the book and was underwhelmed by both that and the film. I have it on my DVR but haven't tackled it yet.

    If you do ever watch A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, it's the weirdest movie ever.

    1. When you put it that way I guess I should find it, soon.

  6. I love that Ex Machina is your number 1, but love EVEN MORE that Mustang is your number 3. Such a great movie, so underseen.

    1. Mustang is definitely underseen. I fell in love with it. And it's so much better than Son of Saul which beat it out for Oscar.

  7. Oh boy, 2015 seems so long ago already and there are still at least 5 movies on your list I haven't seen!
    I'm over the moon you chose Ex Machina as your #1, that movie surprised me like no other has for a long time :)

    P.S. I love your MS Paint skills :P

    1. Yes, it threw me for a loop, too. Glad you're as big a fan.

  8. Nice list here. Anomalisa... that was such a great oddity. I agree, beautiful and bittersweet. I also need to track down Mustang. Completely forgot about that one.

    1. A great oddity, indeed. As for Mustang, it's streaming on Netflix. That's how I saw it.

  9. YEY for Fury Road and Sicario! It Follows is also such a great pick - one of the most original and frightening horror films in years.

    1. It Follows works on so many levels I had to love it.

  10. I skipped all the scary ones of course - which are surprisingly plentiful on your list!

    1. Ha! The Final Girls and Scouts Guide are both comedies. Far more laughs than frights in either. That leaves Goodnight Mommy and It Follows as the two serious horror flicks. To be honest, for me, Beasts of No Nation, The Revenant, and Room were just as scary as anything on this list.

  11. Good list Dell! I like how you share this now, there's no point in rushing out a post of this nature. Our top 20s are different, though we do share an appreciation for Inside Out, Force Awakens, Mad Max, and The Revenant. Have you seen Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, or 45 Years? I have both in my top 15 of 2015

    1. Thanks. I have seen both of those. I did enjoy GP, though not quite enough to give it a spot, here.

      I did nominate Rampling for a Dellie for her fantastic performance, the movie as a whole fell a bit flat for me.

  12. Ex Machina was definitely one of the best things that 2015 gave us. This is a great list but I personally think number 1 spot should have been a tie between Spotlight and Mad Max. Actually forgot how many great films were released that year, WOW.

    1. I've no problem if you want to go with either of those as your #1. They're both great movies.