Hello, everyone, and welcome back to my first-ever Rankings Series: Movies of the Decade! In the previous installment, I laid out my personal Top 10 Movies of 2014, a year which I named the latter half of a two-year transition into what would become known as “even” filmmaking. 2015 really lit the fire under that smoldering stove, and boy was it a great year for film to grow in a way it never had before, with the most iconic franchise of all time making a record-breaking comeback and a 30 year legacy sequel topping any number of Top 10 lists.. In fact, it was in this year that I published my very first official Top 10 Movies list (though I’d toyed with the idea before that). As such, this list appears in its original form, with no added or subtracted films, nor any alteration in placement. All the Top 10 lists from here on out will appear this way, regardless of how well or poorly some of the films on them have aged. So, buckle up readers, because we’re about to get into the thick of it. Here are my Top 10 Movies of 2015!
The film which would go on to win Best Picture and just one other Oscar (Original Screenplay) in 2015 is also one of my favorites from that year. In fact, I would consider Spotlight essential viewing from both a screenplay and ensemble performance perspective. The way director Tom McCarthy managed to keep a coherent focus while balancing a stacked cast at the top of their game (some of them even in minor roles) is a true feat of directorial control, and while many people don’t tend to talk about it as much anymore, it remains worth re-visiting every once in a while just to be reminded how good it is.
Prisoners may have been most people’s introduction to the filmmaking legend that is Denis Villeneuve, but Sicario made him a superstar among the Hollywood demographic. Paired with all-time great cinematographer Roger Deakins, Villeneuve fashioned a masterclass in tension and performance with enough ambiguity regarding its subject matter to allow that tension and those performances to breathe. We may all know him as Cable or Thanos, but this movie features one of Josh Brolin’s finest performances, and the near-perfect runs by Emily Blunt in the lead and Benicio Del Toro in a supporting role that could have won him an Oscar make for some fantastic filmmaking that’s as uneasy to reflect on as it is compelling to watch.
8. The Revenant
Like I said in my original Top 10 list from 2015, this one didn’t end up quite as high on the list as I was hoping it might, but that does nothing to take away from the sheer technical prowess of Alejandro G. Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki; their choice to shoot the film in all-natural light earned Lubezki not just his second, but his third Oscar in a row for cinematography, making him one of the only Academy members to ever three-peat his winnings. Iñárritu would also take home the award for Best Director, and boy oh boy, did it feel so good to see Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the greatest actors of all time, finally win an Oscar for Best Lead Actor. Some would chock that up to a lack of true competition (and, to a degree, I might agree), but Leo really is that good in this, and the craft on display from the technical elements, to watching the movie star crawl inside a dead horse to stay warm, are operating at full capacity, making this watch a thoroughly gorgeous and compelling one.
One of the only films not to be nominated for Best Picture in 2015 that many were sure could make the cut, Todd Haynes’ emotional period drama that follows two women discovering their love for and attraction to each other in the 1950’s features what I might still contend is Cate Blanchett’s best performance, as well as one of Rooney Mara’s top 5. Both of them are exceptional here, and the score by Carter Burwell manages to burrow right into your soul as you watch these two fall in love from a distance and aren’t punished for it by one of their deaths at the end of the film. The supporting cast are all really good too (including Kyle Chandler as Blanchett’s estranged husband), but make no mistake about it, this is the Blanchett and Mara show, and they both bring their A-game. Plus, it just looks very pretty.
A 7th Rocky movie would have been a risky venture for almost anyone after Rocky Balboa had barely managed to repair some of the damage from Rocky V, but for a director with just one feature (albeit a great one) under his belt who’s not even 30 at the time, this could have easily been pre-career suicide. And yet, when Creed broke out the one-shot fight sequence after already endearing us to fun characters and incredibly natural, charismatic performances, it really began to take on a life of its own as perhaps the truest sequel to honor the spirit of that original franchise since at least Rocky III, and we all knew it really was something special. The themes of legacy and making your own way balance off of each other so well, you’d think Ryan Coogler had been doing this for years, but as only his second major feature, he managed to knock it out of the park so hard that not only did it bag Sylvester Stallone a Supporting Actor nomination and spawn a nearly-as-good sequel, Coogler himself would go on to be offered the reins on Black Panther, which became the most successful solo Marvel Studios project of all time, and the very first superhero movie ever to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Every time I talk about it, I try to remind myself to watch it again, cause there is something about the spirit of it that simply cannot be replicated.
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
It really cannot be overstated enough to say that the lead-up and follow-through of this film might have been one of the largest buzzes of anticipation by any general audience in cinematic history. Star Wars had been off our movie screen for over 10 years when this movie came out, and after Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, many were wondering how the mouse house was going to handle the property. Soon enough, promotional material started to be released, with the first stills from a simple table read of the film showing us in the flesh what we had only heard about through press releases: the original cast was back, with J.J. Abrams at the helm. When the first teaser dropped during Christmas-time the year before, you could feel the energy reverberating from the earth: people were ready for new Star Wars again. Bu the film still had to deliver, and after a stellar marketing campaign, The Force Awakens managed to launch itself to the top of the charts to become the #1 highest-grossing domestic film of all time, remaining so to this day. And it’s not hard to see why; to many, a good Star Wars movie hadn’t come out for almost 30 years (though the prequels do have their fans), and this new film promised almost everything they had been craving. The film itself, while certainly playing it safe and derivative of the original Star Wars (which Abrams said was his favorite) featured dynamic, fun new characters, brand new bad guys to theorize about, and a wealth of visual splendor the likes of which Star Wars fans had never seen before. It remains one of my favorite films in the franchise to this day, a near-perfect version of exactly what it was trying to be. I’m not overly optimistic that Abrams can get away from the series’ old iconography to tell a non-safe, compelling story beyond that crutch for The Rise of Skywalker, but he’s surprised us before, so we’ll see.
4. Ex Machina
I remember this being only the second film I saw in 2015 behind Kingsman: The Secret Service (also a great flick), and it blew me away when I watched it. The directorial debut of Alex Garland (who’d been writing great sci-fi for years), Ex Machina managed to take the whole question of what makes us human and dissect it to its essential core as a great Domhnall Gleeson witnesses the glory that is Alicia Vikander’s greatest performance to date by attempting a Turing test on her to see if she can pass for human. Oscar Isaac as the self-made designer of the titular Ava gives him some incredible range to work with, and the screenplay of this film was so good, it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at that year’s Oscars. I don’t want to say too much more in case you haven’t seen it, but definitely check this one out if you haven’t yet had the chance.
3. The Martian
I had heard ad nauseum about the book on which this film was based and just how damn funny it was, so while the trailers for the film didn’t exactly impress me all that much, I was still interested in the film itself; it was so good, I ended up taking multiple people to see it. The Martian is easily one of Ridley Scott’s best films, with a terrific script, great ensemble cast, and endearing story that’s also really fun to watch and really funny to laugh with. Matt Damon turns in one of his best performances in this film as the stranded astronaut Mark Watney, whose social humor and get-it-done attitude actually make you want to root for him to succeed. Sometimes it is nice to just watch smart people figure out how to get smarter for 2 hours, but the pacing and editing of this film makes it feel like it flies by in an hour and a half. It hits just about every beat it needs to right in the perfect spot, and throws in a couple more jokes for good measure. Plus, it’s got a killer soundtrack.
2. Inside Out
Before Avengers: Endgame, I had seen no film in theaters more times than Pixar’s 2015 Original Screenplay nominee and Animated Feature winner, Inside Out, and the latter I only went to more time because I was showing other people the film – with Inside Out, I went and saw it four times by myself. That’s how good this movie is. I like and love other Pixar films as well, but this I consider their greatest masterpiece, a work of absolute genius that actual psychologists said stood up to the task, and made me cry four separate times each day on all four separate days I went to watch it. The way the film balances its humor and themes is remarkable; I never expected an animated feature I knew almost nothing about to connect with me on such a personal level, and to feel the filmmakers speaking to me with their message was something I was also completely unprepared to feel the impact of. This film is soaked in metaphor, brilliantly funny, beautifully animated, gorgeously scored (still on of Michael Giacchino’s finest works), perfectly voice-cast, and wonderfully told through the eyes of Riley. It moves me in ways I cannot describe and I was so lucky I got to witness it on the big screen as many times as I did.
My number one film of 2015, though, also happens to be one of the most subjective selections of the bunch. No, it’s not Mad Max: Fury Road or Star Wars or even Paddington (which I wish I’d seen that year), but it is one of the absolute best of the whole of 2015. Almost no one saw Brooklyn when it came out, but those who did managed to catch one of the most special love stories in decades, as Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, and more brought to life the story of an Irish immigrant making a life for herself in 50’s America only to be yanked back to the life she wanted for herself in Ireland by circumstances outside of her control, and needing to decide which was the better life, the one she really wanted. I had seen some thing with Saoirse Ronan in them before, but nothing to this level; with this, she blasted into my top 5 most exciting actresses to watch on screen, and her uncanny ability to make you feel whatever she wants you to feel through her expressiveness and endearing charm in this role is remarkable. Add onto all of this more endearing characters, an unexpectedly moving central love story with terrific chemistry for its central couple, beautiful production design, a deeply moving score, and delightful cinematography, and something classical and beautiful emerges. This is one of my favorite films of all time, one that shaped me as a movie fan, and one that reminded me (most importantly of all) why I fell in love with movies in the first place. If there were any Best Picture nominee in 2015 that deserved more love, it was this one.
And those are my Top 10 Movies of 2015! What do you think of this list? Any surprising omissions? Surprising entries? What are your Top 10 Movies of 2015? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan