Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 25 Films of 2015

25. The End of the Tour

Jason Segel gives a career best performance as author David Foster Wallace, while Jesse Eisenberg perfectly plays a journalist caught between being respectful to a writer he admires, or prying for the best (and juiciest) story possible. The film essentially is one really long conversation, but it's a thought-provoking and well-acted one, and it lingers long after you see it.

24. The Big Short

Presented in a format that is a little "The Office" and a little Goodfellas, this housing bubble romp is messy, yet meticulously detailed. Scathingly funny, yet infuriating. Absorbing, yet devastating. It also contains the best usage of "Money Maker" by Ludacris ever on film. And did I mention it has a top tier cast in Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, and Steve Carrell?

23. While We're Young

In a turning point scene, Josh is walking down the street and he looks down and glares at a single bike wheel that's chained to a pole. Like, how does that even work? Is it a postmodern art project? Does it mean nothing or does it mean everything? Are we all just descending and ascending spokes crossing each other in a spinning circle that orbits around another circle? That's life, I guess.

22. What We Do in the Shadows

Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi write/direct and star in this brilliantly funny and gleefully clever take on vampires. The deadpan style hits all the right spots when mining humor from the vampires' everyday activities, and it twists tropes from the vampire, mockumentary, and horror found-footage genres in ways that are too hilarious and smart to be written off as gimmickry.

21. The Gift

What initially looked like a bad stalker film that you might see on Lifetime, ends up being a well-wrought suspense thriller in every sense. The story is genuinely unpredictable and it adeptly toys with expectations. The intrigue is kept at a constant--each new turning point or reveal just propels the twisted mystery even more. It also drives home a topical message, all the while.

20. When Marnie Was There

Possibly the last Studio Ghibli film. It's also one of the more accessible (and shorter) ones of the bunch, and it has one of the most potent endings. And frankly, it's just beautiful. With a hint of the supernatural, the story comes down to a tale of two lost souls finding each other. The power of this resonates in the film's stirring final act. And yes, it's a major a tearjerker.

19. Ant-Man

With a nicely cast Paul Rudd, a spread of sight gags, and a playful tone that diverts from the usual bombastic and overstuffed 'the world is crumbling' scenario (looking at you, Age of Ultron...), Ant-Man warps into a fun and entertaining superhero heist movie. It isn't necessarily reinventing the genre, but it's a slight comic book film twist that proves that sometimes bigger isn't always better.

18. Brooklyn

Saoirse Ronan gives a tremendous performance as a young wide-eyed Irish immigrant who moves to the U.S. and falls in love with a young Italian man in this fittingly old-fashioned period piece and irresistible love story. Backed by a beautiful string-driven score, and filled with wonderfully captured details of 1950's Americana, Brooklyn is as charming and bittersweet as can be.

17. Straight Outta Compton

This hyped portrayal of the infamous and influential hip-hop group N.W.A. is crafted with a lot of respect and enthusiasm. While the musical side of things is a magnetic draw for generations of rap fans, it's the relevant themes that give this film its power--from racial profiling to police brutality, record industry politics, and the plight for freedom of speech.

16. Inside Out

Pixar returns triumphantly with Inside Out. It's really an inventive premise with such clever storytelling and characterization, and it's all utilized with immense success. The film functions as one of the more expansive worlds the studio has created. It also allows for some of the more dazzling, surreal, and dare I say--somewhat psychedelic visuals that have appeared in a Pixar film.

15. Furious 7

A squadron of cars skydiving out of an airplane onto mountains? Check. Cars speeding through buildings in Abu Dhabi? Check. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson breaking out of his arm cast by flexing? Check. Leave any uptightness at the door. Furious 7 is a whole lot of fun, and it works as an exhilarating contemporary stunt flick, as well as a poignant sendoff for Paul Walker.

14. Spotlight

Complete with a stellar A+ ensemble cast of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d'Arcy James, and Liev Schreiber, Spotlight is a based-on-true-events film that details a group of journalists delivering a church-shattering report to the public. The final scenes of constant phone-ringing remind us that molestation within the Catholic church is still an ongoing issue.

13. It Follows

The best horror film since The BabadookIt Follows thrives on an unnerving mood and atmosphere, while mixing physical and psychological terror within a teen movie setting. The story is powerful in its metaphor--less of an STD gimmick and more representative of the trauma from sexual assault and its lingering and pervasive nature. The tact is jarring and more disturbing than a jump scare.

12. Steve Jobs

Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin ditch the usual by-the-numbers biopic formula and dive straight into an immediate story about Apple's complicated co-founder. With its great cast and excellent screenplay, Steve Jobs is a highly proficient portrait of a relentlessly difficult, egotistical and narcissistic innovator and marketer who is attempting to change the world... and succeeding.

11. Bridge of Spies

Wow, does Spielberg sure know how to construct scenes in order to generate the greatest interest and appeal, while also staging some terrific looking #PerfectShot frames. This Tom Hanks-starring Cold War thriller is a story about just how damned complicated things can get when a lot of different people at-odds are trying to do the job that they were sent to do.

10. Sicario

Directer Denis Villeneuve continues his impressive streak with this brutal, tense, and heart-racing Mexican drug cartel thriller. Emily Blunt's character is thrown into some highly dangerous zones without having much background information about the specific situations or instruction about what exactly the mission entails, so in a way, it feels like we're on the unpredictable ride with her.

9. The Martian

Matt Damon is the man left behind in this gripping, well-executed space survival epic and slick NASA drama. The accessible narrative propels enough obstacles, dilemmas, and high stakes to give you gray hair. It almost unfolds like a sports movie--even though we're probably predicting the optimistic outcome, we're still on the edge of our seats rooting for the squad to pull it off.

8. Mistress America

Between its screwball antics, dysfunctional characters, and hilarious dialogue, Mistress America is the best comedy of 2015, and it wears its heart on its sleeve. It's full of failed ambitions and rejection, and it propounds the idea that sometimes we're all in the same boat when it comes to not getting what we want. But most of all, it's a testament of friendship--as simple as that.

7. Ex Machina

Complete with phenomenal performances from Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina is a stunningly well-crafted slice of future-shock drama with some A.I. eroticism. Given its heavy explorations of empathy, morality, human attachment, and the weirdness of hi-tech creation, the entire premise plays out like a new-age Willy Wonka factory trip.

6. The Walk

Based on the true, incredible story of Philippe Petit's walk across a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, The Walk dramatizes the events with immense success. It's all spunkier than expected, and the film strolls a taut balance between a compelling caper that pulls off the near-impossible, and a moving tribute to the iconic buildings that are no longer there.

5. Dope

The movie Dope can be defined as:

Swiftly paced; highly entertaining at every turn
synonyms: fresh, hilarious, downright fun, wildly absurd, offensive

an exuberant romp of youthful energy, heavily informed and influenced by hip-hop culture and "hip" culture in general

A movie that I frickin' love

4. Creed

It's the Rocky spin-off that we didn't know we needed. Ryan Coogler directs this film with so much flair, grit, and passion. The film isn't just insanely watchable, but you also might want to give it a fist bump and a hug. It contains a number of highly memorable scenes and fantastic performances from Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. Creed is nostalgic and ode-full, yet contemporary--carving out its own path. Some boxing experts might scoff at Donnie's quick rise to a title shot, but Rocky has always been an underdog story, and Creed is taking the torch.

3. Me & Earl & the Dying Girl

It's been labeled as The Fault in Our Stars meets quirky Sundance-core, but I think it's more "Freaks and Geeks" meets 50/50. Even considering its poignant premise, this is surprisingly hilarious and heartwarming. The script taps into the absurd environment of high school where everyone attempts to find themselves, as well as the significant moments, relationships, and perils that come along with it. The film approaches the subject of cancer with such refreshing honesty, even inserting its own icebreaking moments. It doesn't try to sugarcoat anything either, and it stresses that you can't just automatically dehumanize someone or act like they're an elephant in the room when they're diagnosed with a terrible disease, and you don't *really* know what a person is going through on either side. I'm getting emotional just thinking about this one, so I'm gonna go grab a tissue and return with the Top 2.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Fury Road is a film in which you can hear rusty engines revving up before the first scene even fades in. What's so striking about it all is the uniformly frenzied aesthetic, from the hodgepodge rigs, to the on-the-verge-of-death makeup work, to the jagged grease warrior attire--all amidst the drought brown tones. Along with all the busyness stuffed into the frame, visual flairs of jittery fast-forward effects are injected--conceiving some imagery that is reminiscent of seminal silent films like Metropolis and Man on the Moon. There's a lot of post-apocalyptic ugliness here, but it is gorgeously shot and furiously choreographed. We witness setpiece on setpiece on setpiece. A standout sequence is a pedal-to-the-metal chase through a gargantuan sandstorm filled with tornados (and lightning), and it literally takes your breath away. Everything is just so relentlessly aggressive and operatic. And just in case things weren't already loud enough, there's a guy strapped to a tower of amps slamming on a flamethrower guitar to fill out the volume.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A cultural phenomenon that unites countless moviegoers--be it casual fans, super-fans, or new fans that were completely unfamiliar with the series. (We won't discuss the haters).

Upon it's colossal, spoilers-on-lock arrival, The Force Awakens proves to be an exciting rebirth for a beloved franchise, which will be a force for many more years to come. With its great cast of old and new, dazzling action sequences, humor and heart, the film captures the multi-dimensional magic that many of us adore when it comes to cinema. The indies, arthouses, heavy dramas, and thought-provokers all have their place, but sometimes a fun and entertaining spiritual boost like The Force Awakens or Fury Road ends up being the most memorable.

Sure, one particular scene reeks of clumsy exposition, and there's some plot point retreading, but the movie is just so awesome that it's easy to forgive. The Force Awakens is one of those theater experiences where you can practically sense the thousands of goosebumps arising within the room. And it's an experience that is worth going back to witness multiple times. Aren't those the best kinds of movies?

"Chewie, we're home."


  1. hey - great work, this is a very credible list!!
    Love the blog, will make it one of 'blogs to check in 2016' post which i'm putting together... Keep up the good work!

    1. I've seen about half of these and I am looking forward to seeing many of the rest. Because I always have to wait to see many of the late in the year movies I don't do a Top list until after the Oscars.

    2. I hope you enjoy them! I'll keep an eye out for your list.

  2. Great list Zach! Great to see Me and Earl so high up.