This is my Favorite Movies of 2015 list (along with a second opinion from Eric Sweeney at the bottom). As all movie lists are, this list is highly subjective and probably has a few dumb movies on it. What can I say? It’s a sickness. Even then, there are still quite a few movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet, so no yelling about your favorite film being excluded if it appears on the haven’t seen yet list at the bottom*. If it didn’t make either of those lists, then have at it with the internet yelling (And yes, I saw the Hateful Eight already, but did not dig it. Sorry. Well made, but not my jam).
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Admittedly, my bias was strong with this one. The Force Awakens was always going to occupy this slot unless it was terrible. But it wasn’t. I loved it. The new cast members were fantastic, the old reliables were solid, the script was sharp and the film itself set a promising tone for the rest of the Skywalker saga. I don’t care if it was a mild retread of A New Hope. It was wonderful. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Snow falling on sabers
2. Mad Max: Fury Road – Certainly the surprise hit of the summer, Mad Max stunned viewers by actually living up to expectations set by its insane looking trailer and in some ways even surpassing it. Even with a bit of green screen in play, this movie is a prime example of why it pays to shoot on location. No digitally created environment can trump how the barren deserts of Namibia look in this film. (Trailer)
Best Scene: That two hour chase scene/Many mothers reveal
Watch This If You Like: The Road Warrior, two hour chase scenes, witnessing War Boys reach the gates of Vahalla
3. The Martian – This is the movie Prometheus really should have been. Not necessarily in terms of content, but in terms of quality. It, like Prometheus, has such a slick look to it (credit to Dariusz Wolski‘s cinematography in both movies), but the Martian is so much more satisfying. Armed with a perfect cast, the humor of Weir’s novel and a number of surprisingly poignant moments, this is the best adaptation of the book you could have possibly hoped for. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Watney’s tearful takeoff
4. Sicario – Oozing with a sense of dread from its very first frame, Sicario is easily the year’s most gripping film. A tense narco thriller about an idealistic FBI agent sent to assist in the war against the Mexican cartels, Sicario’s acting (Benicio deserves a best supporting actor nod for this), directing and cinematography really trump what could be a shrug worthy script in other hands. But be warned. This is a bleak film. Like abandon all hope bleak. If you’re feeling good about yourself and for some reason want to take yourself down ten notches, this is the movie for you. (Trailer)
Best Scene: “Go ahead. Eat.”
Watch This If You Like: Traffic, Prisoners, a better version of True Detective Season 2, feeling utterly helpless, depression naps, depressing soundtracks, hiding in the closet when someone knocks on your door, fear, fear naps, reasons to never visit Juarez, anxiety attacks
5. The Revenant – The Revenant is a grisly survival story propped up on the merits of its technical marvels, a fearless lead performance and a collection of starkly desolate landscapes. At some point, it becomes less of a movie and more of a ‘How to Win Leonardo Dicaprio an Oscar’ simulator, but I was still captivated. Despite all the draining brutality, hardship and ugliness, it still remains a stunningly beautiful movie. I expect this one to jump up my list when I get around to seeing it again. Definitely not for the squeamish though. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The opening ambush aka Get to the Boats!
6. Inside Out – Inside Out is a movie I liked significantly more the second time I watched it. Originally, I admired the visuals and the vibrant color palette employed by the animation team, but came away thinking it borrowed too much from its influences (Calvin and Hobbes, Osmosis Jones, Herman’s Head, and Wreck-It Ralph to name a few) and delivered a fun, but fairly innocuous story. The second time through I appreciated it a lot more, seeing it for the emotionally rich picture it really is. Even if you get hung up on the film’s rather accessible approach to psychology, I think there are themes that will resonate deeply with both kids and adults alike. However, the true accomplishment of this movie may be that it makes the audience misty eyed over a character named Bing Bong. Did not see that coming. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Joy realizes the merits of sadness/Bing Bong’s goodbye
Watch This If You Like: Pixar Movies, Feels, Wreck-It Ralph
7. Creed – A far superior boxing movie than the strangely flat and disappointing Southpaw (which I saw someone accurately describe as a trash can fire of unearned sentimentality), Creed, despite having a trailer which unwisely chose to divulge the entire plot of the movie, succeeds just as much outside of the ring as it did inside the ring. Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson turn in solid, likable performances, while Stallone, freed from his usual directing responsibilities in the series, gives a stripped down Rocky Balboa closer to that which we haven’t seen since the first Rocky movie, and it is a welcome surprise. After however many terrible bravado filled posture fest Expendables movies, I had forgotten Stallone could be so good. And that tracking shot in the first fight? Immaculate. Also very happy to see that Marvel just gave Creed’s director Ryan Coogler the directing job for Black Panther. Well deserved. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The one-take fight.
Watch This If You Like: Rocky Movies, Fruitvale Station, training montages
8. Meru – Meru is an alpine climbing documentary that follows a team of climbers (climbing heavyweights Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk) who attempt to complete a first ascent of the seemingly impossible Shark Fin route on Mount Meru. Despite focusing on the kind of esoteric subject matter you would expect to be buried in the deep dark recesses of your Netflix que, Meru is breathtaking, harrowing (all three of its subjects nearly die on a semi-regular basis during filming), and at times profoundly touching (proof of which came when it was recently shortlisted by the academy for best documentary). Even if the outdoors aren’t your thing, give this documentary a shot. It is a truly powerful film that should not be missed. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Survivor’s guilt
9. Beasts of No Nation – This haunting adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s book is the gut punch you would expect it to be. A brutal and unflinching look at a fictitious group of child soldiers led by a cruel but charismatic leader, Beasts of No Nation was Netflix’s first real push into the production side of the movie business, and I think it was a great success. The performances from Idris Elba and Abraham Attah are a large part of why it works so well, but Cary Fukunaga’s production as a whole should be commended. This could not have been an easy film to make. And while it may be difficult to sit through, I do not think this movie should be ignored. I know everyone in America is binging Making a Murderer on Netflix right now, but when you finish, consider adding Beasts of No Nation to your que. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Commandant pumps up his troops
10. Ant-Man – While it may not shock summer audiences quite like Guardians of the Guardians did last year, Ant-Man is a likable superhero flick that proves good casting and the right tone can go a long way toward making an almost unfilmable product worth watching. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas and Michael Pena are especially good in this, but heavy doses of wit and a rather uncomplicated plot (as far as Marvel movies go at least) really prevent this from being the train wreck that it could have been (there is something about the template of this movie that reminds me a bit of DC’s Green Lantern movie, except if it wasn’t terrible, so if you want to see the disaster version of Ant-Man, watch Green Lantern as a cautionary tale of what could have been). Unfortunately, Ant-Man still falls into Marvel’s recent trappings of having forgettable and shrug worthy villains (Tom Hiddleston being the exception of course) seen in Corey Stoll’s sneering Daren Cross, whose journey from 0 to 60 on the doing bad things to people who disagree with you at board meetings scale seems completely absurd, but I guess you can’t have everything in a second tier Marvel superhero movie. Ant-man won’t blow you away, but at the end of the movie I was completely on board with seeing more of these characters in the Marvel universe. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Michael Pena’s heist pitches
Watch This If You Like: Guardians of the Galaxy, Heist movies, Paul Rudd
11. The Look of Silence – Companion piece to the surreal and disturbing 2012 documentary ‘The Act of Killing’, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer’s second film regarding the Indonesian mass killings follows the brother of one of the victims as he confronts his brother’s killers. ‘The Look of Silence’ is so disturbing and difficult to watch. I had to stop it a few times and wasn’t sure I’d make it to the end. It’s easily one of the year’s best films, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. I have no idea how Josh Oppenheimer managed to make two movies about this subject without his life being seriously threatened. I assume he can’t go to Indonesia now and I fully understand why making these movies gave him insomnia and nightmares. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Is there such a thing as a best scene in a movie like this? I honestly don’t know. I can’t get this movie out of my head though. It’s haunting.
12. Everest – Stunning atmospheric visuals of the world’s tallest peak and a rock solid cast (Brolin, Knightley and Clarke are the standouts) headline this retelling of the 1996 Everest disaster (which Into Thin Air famously and controversially documented). While the spectacle and ruthless nature of alpine climbing are depicted effectively, it is unfortunately hampered by some odd pacing issues that keep it from being truly great. It also loses points for not having a scene where the climbers lug nitro glycerine up the mountain, but you can’t have everything. This is also the second movie on the list featuring John Krakauer. I guess it’s a good year to be Krakauer. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The storm approaches/Hall speaks with his wife
13. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – A mashup of ‘Be Kind Rewind’ and ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ with a sort of Wes Anderson for tweens vibe to it, ‘Me & Earl And The Dying Girl’ won a slew of awards at Sundance this year before triggering a bidding war for the rights to its theatrical release. Earl is better than most of the high school movies released in the last few years, but it’s also not without its problems. While I can’t fault a movie where the teen protagonist is obsessed with Werner Herzog, I do think there are about fifteen to twenty minutes where said protagonist becomes insufferable and the movie suffers as a result. Is this insufferable behavior most likely representative of actual teenage behavior? Sure, but it does prevent Me & Earl and The Dying Girl from taking that next step into becoming a classic coming of age story. It’s still an admirable movie however and RJ Cyler as Earl and Olivia Cooke as Rachel deliver fantastic performances. They should be given all the teenager roles in movies from now on. All of them! (Trailer)
Best Scene: Rachel watches her movie
14. The Salvation – A traditional gritty western revenge tale with no real frills to it, ‘The Salvation’ is bolstered by a strong lead performance from Mads Mikkelsen and spirited support work from Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eva Green, Jonathan Pryce and Mikael Persbrandt. The is pretty much the Danish film industry’s answer to ‘Unforgiven,’ even if it doesn’t quite reach the brilliance of Eastwood’s swan song western. The Salvation may be rough around the edges, but there is still a lot to like here. I mean, Mads Mikkelsen is quietly one of the best actors in the world right now, so that alone should get any respectable western fan reason to chance ‘The Salvation.’ (Trailer)
Best Scene: A soldier’s revenge/Peter taunts his jailer
15. What We Do In The Shadows – A kindred spirit to the deadpan humor of Flight of the Concords, this vampire mockumentary by FOTC creator Jemaine Clement and long time collaborator Taika Waititi is often hilarious. Owing a lot to mockumentary pioneers like Christopher Guest and horror comedy classics like Shaun of the Dead, this clever indie import from New Zealand could be a new Halloween classic in the making. And Stu. Stu really steals the show. Stu is the best. (Trailer)
Best Scene: You can’t eat Stu
Watch This If You Like: Flight of the Concords
16. Slow West – Slow West is an unsurprisingly slow western whose grim tone feels like an odd marriage between the Coen brothers, John Ford and Jim Jarmusch. Featuring some gorgeous vistas courtesy of New Zealand’s always scenic south island, a quality performance from Michael Fassbender and an undeniably tragic conclusion, this quirky tale is worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre. It may not wow you with its gunplay and shootouts, but the film sure is pretty to look at. And if you find yourself fading while watching it, do yourself a favor and fast forward to the last twenty minutes. That is Slow West at its best. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The final shootout
17. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Vinterberg’s follow up to last year’s superb ‘The Hunt’ is an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic romance novel about strong willed heiress Bathshesba Everdene. While I can’t confess to seeking out many period drama love quadrangles or even reading the source material, I did think this was a good movie. The English countryside is gorgeously shot and Matthias Schoenaerts, the dubbed Belgian Brando (who got a rather thankless role in last year’s The Drop), is a real talent. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Farmer Oak’s countryside
18. Macbeth – A visually stunning, but oddly hollow adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. Despite superb acting (Fassbender and Cotillard were made for these roles), the movie can’t quite overcome its decision to place aesthetics above Shakespeare’s words, leaving its conversations sometimes feeling rushed (the soliloquies are the exception, those are top notch) and a bit stiff. Regardless, this is a powerful adaptation of the play, one that I would still encourage any fans of Shakespeare to seek out. I will be curious to see how this director/star combo fare when they reunite for next year’s Assassin’s Creed adaptation. So far, it looks promising. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Macbeth repels the Irish invaders aka a prophecy revealed
Watch This If You Like: Shakespeare, Michael Fassbender being a creep
19. Ex Machina – Ex Machina is a well made sci-fi film from genre scribe Alex Garland that is unfortunately diminished by the existence of the BBC’s outstanding Black Mirror, placing it in the company of the show’s best episodes, but as a result paling its very existence as a large scale theatrical effort. If Black Mirror hadn’t come out this year, I guarantee Ex Machina would be higher on my list. Either way, if you like smart, thought provoking sci-fi, please support this film. These are the kind of genre pictures that should be getting made today. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Tearing up the dance floor
20. Turbo Kid – Turbo Kid is a pure madness campy 80s homage with the gore settings turned to 11. It’s a very weird movie, but it’s hard not to be swept up in its infectious silliness and low budget roots. It’s not for everyone though, as the directors remain disciples of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson’s early splattergore work. Nevertheless, I’m sure it will find cult status for years to come. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Finding the Turbo Glove
21. White God – White God, commonly known as the dog revolution movie (not to be confused with the dog stops the Nazis movie that was released at the same time), is a Hungarian film that tells the story of teenage outcast Lili and her unwanted mutt Hagen. Much like ‘The Revenant,’ this movie impresses on the ‘how the hell did they shoot this’ effect, particularly in scenes where upwards of two hundred dogs are running wild on the streets of Budapest. Make no mistake though, this is not a kids movie. This is a disturbing movie. If you are an animal lover, I would encourage you to skip this one because it includes some scenes of extreme animal abuse. And while it’s a memorable cinematic experience to be sure, outside of some light class warfare commentary, the allegory of the film still remains a bit murky by the time the credits role. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Dog revolution
22. It Follows – ‘It Follows’ was the horror darling of 2015 much in the same way ‘The Babadook’ held that same distinction in 2014. I think ‘It Follows’ is a better film than ‘The Babadook,’ although I know there are many who would disagree with me. Even though the plot of ‘It Follows’ is not entirely unique, the mechanic of the story is so unsettling that I couldn’t help but spend the entire film scanning the horizon, constantly on the lookout for ‘It’ to finally catch up with its victims. Certainly, the movie has its share of flaws. The ending was pretty dumb, there are missteps with one or two of the ‘It’ attacks, but I think at the end of the day the pervasive eeriness that lingers throughout the movie is enough to warrant inclusion on this list. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Jeff explains the rules
Honorable Mention: Spectre, Steve Jobs, Dope, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Cobain: Montage of Heck, The Gift, When Marnie Was There, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, Bone Tomahawk, ’71, Trainwreck, Furious 7, Crimson Peak, Kung Fu Killer, The Final Girls, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Big Game, Trash, Seven Days in Hell, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Krampus, Amy, Straight Outta Compton, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World
*Still Have Not Seen: The Assassin, Anomalisa, Spotlight, The End of the Tour, Cartel Land, Legend, Bridge of Spies, Room, Carol, No Escape, Black Mass, Brooklyn, American Ultra, Point Break, Z for Zachariah, Lost River, The Visit, The Big Short, Trumbo, The Walk, 99 Homes, Victoria, Mississippi Grind, Concussion, Phoenix, Love & Mercy, Tangerine, Mistress America, A Most Violent Year, The Wolfpack, The Hallow, Dangerous Men
Recognition Based Purely on Performance: Benicio, Josh Brolin and Emily Blunt in Sicario, Matt Damon in The Martian, Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins in The Hateful Eight, Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver in Star Wars, Michael Pena in Ant-Man, Shameik Moore in Dope, Rinko Kikuchi in Kumiko The Treasure Hunter, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in Macbeth, Idris Elba and Abraham Attah in Beasts of No Nation, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Issac in Ex Machina, Rebecca Ferguson in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Mads Mikkelsen in The Salvation, Olivia Cooke and RJ Cyler in Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, Richard Jenkins in Bone Tomahawk, Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith in Inside Out, Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone in Creed, Jason Mitchell in Straight Outta Compton, Michael Sheen in Seven Days in Hell, Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts in Far From the Madding Crowd, Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs
Most Disappointing Movie: I don’t want to linger too much on the negative, but man, the last Hobbit was a huge let down. Mediocre! Also, Jurassic World was profoundly stupid, but I did enjoy elements of it (the dinosaurs were great, the humans, not so much), so it’s like half a disappointment, half honorable mention. Either way, Trevorrow better not screw up Episode 9.
Movies I’m Most Looking Forward to in 2016: Star Wars: Rogue One, Baby Driver, Captain America: Civil War, Okja, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, Triple 9, War Machine, Passengers, The Great Wall, Story of Your Life, The Nice Guys, The Disaster Artist, The Boy and The Beast, X-Men Apocalypse, Assassin’s Creed, Salt and Fire, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend, The Handmaid, The Lobster, Bourne 5, Hail Caesar!, Neon Demon, Finding Dory, Snowden, The Girl on the Train, Silence, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Kung Fu Panda 3, Midnight Special, Knights of Cups, Viking, Ip Man 3, The Little Prince, I Saw The Light, The Witch, Your Name, Star Trek Beyond, London Has Fallen, Gambit, Warcraft, Suicide Squad, Deadpool, Independence Day: Resurgence, Green Room, Money Monster, Three Billboards, War on Everyone, La La Land, The Light Between Oceans, Voyage of Time, Everybody Wants Some, Ghostbusters, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, The Free State of Jones, Green Room, Free Fire, The BFG, The Bad Batch, The Circle, Secret Agent, Keanu, Conner4Real, The Shallows
Second Opinion (Eric Sweeney)
1 – Mad Max: Fury Road – The craziest movie I have ever seen. It felt like a two-hour long action scene, packed full of amazing stunts. I get bummed out when I hear anyone say that they haven’t seen it yet, because they’ll never be able to experience it on the big screen like I did, which really made it that much better. I can’t wait for George Miller to make more films set in this insane universe he’s created. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Max’s fight on the pole-cat as the tanker explodes. I remember Sam and I looking at each other when that happened.
2 – The Revenant – While Mad Max was two hours of crazy fun, this is 2+ hours full of complete brutality and human suffering. The film is shot to make the viewer feel like they are there with DiCaprio, by using natural light and long takes. It sounds like the production was a long, winter-ish nightmare but what came out of it was beautiful. (Trailer)
Best Scene: I won’t spoil it, but “Domhnall and a Tree Branch.” The bear attack is a close second.
3 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Yeah, there was no way I wouldn’t love this movie. I think Conor is going to put it higher, and I’d love to, but while it was immensely satisfying, I did have some minor complaints with the plot and some of the character choices. However, it was exactly what I was hoping for in a new Star Wars movie, and I cannot wait for the next one to come out (in 18 months). (Trailer)
Best Scene: Snow falling on sabers
4 – Inside Out – Pixar can really do no wrong, though I haven’t loved a movie of theirs in a few years, until this came out. While it wasn’t as funny as I would have hoped, the world they created was fun to explore and it really brought the feels. It probably goes in the top 5 of Pixar films for me (Up, The Incredibles, Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc). (Trailer)
Best Scene: Poor Bing Bong!
5 – Spotlight – This film is really well done, very informative, and made me extremely upset about the topic. You really don’t get these kind of investigative movies anymore, but I wish there were more like this one. (Trailer)
Best Scene: When the expert tells the journalists on the phone that the number of cases they’ve uncovered are way too low for the size of a city like Boston.
6 – Sicario – Villinueve is now a director that’s a must-see for me, especially after how much this movie brought the suspense. Also, good to see that Benicio Del Toro can still kick ass. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The prisoner transport over the border.
7 – Ex Machina – A realistic sci-fi film that can be quite slow at times, but very thought-provoking. Oscar Isaac and Domnall Gleeson are just straight killing it. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Obviously the dance scene.
8 – The Martian – Loved the book and the movie was a great adaptation, especially with the humor and what Matt Damon brought to the character. Though there were two big events near the end of the book that I really wished they had put in the movie. (Trailer)
Best Scene: When Watney finally makes contact with Earth via the Pathfinder
9 – MI Rogue Nation – Tom Cruise is a messed up human being, but he’s a damn good actor. I never saw Spectre, but apparently the Mission Impossible series is becoming a much better spy franchise. The new additions, Rebecca Ferguson and director Christopher McQuarrie, were pretty awesome and I’m glad to hear that both of them will be back for the next film in the franchise. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The entire opera scene. Very Hitchcock-esque.
10 – The Big Short – A very interesting take and look in to the housing crisis that caused the 2008 economic recession. Filmed half like a faux documentary, you’d think a film about such a complex and confusing topic would be hard to watch but it was instead quite funny and enjoyable. They often cutaway from the plot and used famous people to explain a complicated topic, such as Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain, to much amusement. (Trailer)
Best Scene: JENGA! Also Carrell and Gosling are awesome in every scene.
Honorable Mention Scene: Michael Pena’s heist pitches from Ant-Man
Honorable Mention Movies: Steve Jobs, Ant-Man, Bridge of Spies
Haven’t Seen Yet But Want To: Anomalisa, Carol, Room, Crimson Peak, Bone Tomahawk