The annual ritual of narrowing down hundreds of titles to just 10 is a cruel but necessary discipline as a film critic. Over the past 12 months, I’ve seen 100 new releases. I spent a combined eight days watching movies this year, and I’m happy to report that 2015 has been a pretty great year for cinema.
We saw new work by visionary filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott, Todd Haynes, George Miller, and Denis Villeneuve. We witnessed noteworthy performances by Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Oscar Isaac, Michael B. Jordan, Saoirse Ronan, and Brie Larson. And we were entertained and awe-struck by blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
I saw some truly great movies that renewed my love for cinema and kept my cynicism and negativity buried beneath joy and optimism this year. Here are the ones that did just that: 10 films that moved, inspired, and reinvigorated me.
Top 10 Movies Of 2015
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Co-written and directed by George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road is nothing short of a masterpiece. This is an epic of grease, gunpowder, and gasoline – a feminist, post-apocalyptic Western on wheels, all shiny and chrome. This is cinema in its purest, most exhilarating form. Starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, Fury Road is the reason we go to the movies – to be carried off to far-off worlds with fascinating characters who speak to the truths of our own existence. [review]
2. Star Wars: the Force Awakens
Directed by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a triumphant return to the George Lucas’s sprawling space saga and a powerful piece of pop mythology. After 18 years of revisionist “Special Editions” and disheartening Prequel films, Star Wars is back. Kathleen Kennedy, Lawrence Kasdan, and Abrams have reinvigorated this franchise and my connection to it. [review]
Tom McCarthy‘s Spotlight is a riveting look at the true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church. A tense investigative dramatic-thriller, Spotlight features an incredible ensemble (Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, and Liev Schreiber), and a compelling script that traces the steps to one of the biggest cover-ups in modern history.
4. Ex Machina
Alex Garland‘s Ex Machina is thought-provoking while simultaneously unsettling and disturbing. Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac deliver fantastic performances while Garland keeps you at a distance, second-guessing the motives of all involved. It’s masterful filmmaking – spellbinding storytelling with a restrained and artful approach to special effects that enhances the story instead of distracting from it. [review]
Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen deliver wonderful performances in this period drama directed by John Crowley. Based on Colm TÃ³ibÃn‘s 2009 novel, Brooklyn tells the story of a young Irish woman’s immigration to Brooklyn and the romance that follows. Brooklyn deftly blends humor and poignancy to deliver an uplifting and emotional film – one of the most satisfying moviegoing experiences of the year.
Directed by Todd Haynes and written by Phyllis Nagy, Carol is a soul-stirring treatise on unspoken desire and social expectations. Accented by Carter Burwell“˜s magnificent score, Nagy’s screenplay captures the intoxicating thrill of a forbidden love and the heartache that comes with the realization that it cannot be sustained. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara deliver spellbinding, achingly tender performances. [review]
7. The Hateful Eight
With fantastic performances from a legendary ensemble, The Hateful Eight is perhaps Quentin Tarantino‘s most satisfying work since 1997’s Jackie Brown. From costuming to production design, to the tense and haunting score by Ennio Morricone, the craft of Tarantino’s latest is flawless. Understated and excessive, The Hateful Eight is motivated by a righteous love of cinema that is infectious; wildly entertaining and entirely absorbing. [review]
Co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler, Creed stars Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson, the son of Apollo Creed – Carl Weathers’ fleet-footed fighter from the Rocky franchise. Emotionally engaging and entirely satisfying, Coogler’s film is the perfect vessel for cinematic catharsis. A modern-day underdog story, Creed is a reminder of how strong the human spirit can be when we have something to fight for. [review]
9. Magic Mike XXL
Magic Mike XXL is something of a cinematic anomaly. What makes Gregory Jacobs‘ film so unique is that it works as bro-centric male fantasy and erotic female wish fulfillment. It’s the movie both Entourage and Fifty Shades of Grey aspire to, but are woefully unequipped to be. While the first film is a dark, existential drama in the guise of a salacious stripper flick, the sequel is a fun-loving, freewheeling sex comedy. Co-writer and star Channing Tatum gives audiences what they want: a no-strings-attached good time. [review]
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Sicario is a searing crime-thriller about consequentialism; about choices. Do the ends justify the means? If we do immoral things to achieve a virtuous goal, can we still call ourselves the good guys? Or are our hearts darkened beyond repair? Unrelenting in its intensity, staggering in its artistry, Sicario is a nerve-shattering experience from the very first frame, with great performances by Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt. [review]
Honorable Mentions: The Martian; Finders Keepers; What We Do in the Shadows; It Follows; Room; The Big Short; Amy; Bone Tomahawk; Crimson Peak; Inside Out; Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation; Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter; Tangerine; Chi-Raq; Call Me Lucky.
Follow Adam Frazier on Twitter and Letterboxd.
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