2015 Yearbook: David’s Top 10 Films

The best movies of the year took us into the past, the future, deep space, and inside the human mind.

I had a hard time putting together this year’s list. Up until I hit “Publish,” I was wrestling over not just the order, but what was even worthy of inclusion. As you know, this is not a “Best Films” list. It’s not exactly a “Favorite Films” list, either, but more of a weird hybrid where I attempt to balance my affection for a film against critical objectivity. These are the films that define 2015 for me.

And, as usual, there’s a lot I just never got around to viewing: Ex Machina. Room. Carol. Macbeth. Anomalisa. My tastes tend to skew more populist, so there’s no telling as to whether these would have made the list, but I mention them because word is they are excellent, and worthy of your attention. I’ll see them eventually, but I can’t exactly delay this piece indefinitely.

As far as Honorable Mentions go, I’ll break them down like so:

Films I Would Have Expected To Make The List, But Disappointed Me In Some Way

The Hateful Eight. Incredible craft, fun characterizations (I especially loved Walton Goggins), but it left me feeling ugly and empty inside. I certainly respect the debate about Tarantino’s intentions in telling this story, but I’d rather abstain from it. (Chase’s Review)

The Walk. The final third of the film is a doozy on the big screen, but Robert Zemeckis just makes too many odd choices in getting there. (My Review)

The Big Short. Zippy, brainy, infuriating. Its scattershot approach doesn’t quite gel into a coherent whole. I’d still call it “important viewing,” though. (My Review)

Films That I Liked, But Not Enough To Include

SicarioDenis Villeneuve’s cartel thriller sports some truly bravura sequences; Benicio del Toro is brilliantly inscrutable, and Emily Blunt continues to reign as the action heroine of her generation. (Sean’s Review)

Everest. I actually still think about this film often. Director Baltasar Kormákur stages his telling of the 1996 climbing disaster with extraordinary verisimilitude; Jason Clarke leads a deep ensemble cast. (My Review)

Brooklyn. A handsome period romance anchored by a splendid Saoirse Ronan, while also making a moving statement about the immigrant experience. (My Review)

Franchise Sequel That I Must Confess I Really, Really Enjoyed, But Couldn’t Possibly Have Included While Maintaining Credibility

Jurassic World. (My Review)

The Worst Film I Saw In 2015

Chappie. (My Review)


Okay, that’s enough of that. On to the Top 10:

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10. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

From my review: “Each time out as Ethan Hunt has pushed Cruise the Man to his physical limits. That dedication — or is it insanity? — is evident on screen: See how I bleed for my art, Cruise the Actor says to us, gazing up at us from his gladiatorial pit. See how I risk tens — hundreds! — of studio millions so you can see it is me, Tom Cruise, on this actual plane as it actually flies into the actual air. Even the film’s own marketing emphasized behind-the-scenes footage instead of actual footage: the separation between the fiction and the reality is as thin as a safety cable.”

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9. The Revenant
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Speaking of suffering for your art… I’m not totally sure how I even feel about The Revenant. Here’s what I can’t deny: Iñárritu’s ambitious, absurdly choreographed direction; Emmanuel Lubezki’s awe-inspiring cinematography (go ahead and give him that third-straight Oscar); Leonardo DiCaprio’s go-for-broke, self-flagellating performance. It’s a work of madness, and, if the actual script were as sophisticated as what’s on screen, unquestionably one of the year’s best films. But even if it’s a punishing, somewhat emotionally stunted experience, it does demand to be seen, and interpreted. (Chase’s Review)

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8. Steve Jobs
Directed by Danny Boyle

While it hardly qualifies as an even-handed (let alone accurate) biopic of the Apple titan, Steve Jobs is still a fascinating distillation of the “genius a-hole” paradigm that Aaron Sorkin has mastered. Its ambitious structure unfolds as a trio of one-act plays, with the rapid-fire, door-slamming energy of a backstage farce; Michael Fassbender tears into Sorkin’s dialogue with relish, Kate Winslet is rock-steady, and even Seth Rogen acquits himself well. I think once I have a chance to see it again, knowing now what it is and what it’s not, I’ll enjoy it even more. (Nathan’s Review)

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7. Creed
Directed by Ryan Coogler

From my review: “While Creed’s plot follows the trajectory of its predecessors, it’s not merely a retread — it’s crackling with life in every frame. A lot of that is owed to Coogler’s masterful direction: he frames sequences both in and out of the ring with a craftsman’s eye, and he pulls powerful, nuanced performances out of Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. When Adonis goes charging down Front Street, Meek Mill on the soundtrack as ATVs pirouette around him, the message is clear: Creed stands on the shoulders of a legend, but this is something new. Get hyped.”

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6. Bridge of Spies
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Spielberg is still the master of visual storytelling, and Bridge of Spies matches Lincoln in its ability to make dry diplomatic procedure completely engrossing. It’s a moody, meticulous film, rewarding viewers’ patience with satisfyingly tense third act, and as great as Tom Hanks is as the innately decent lawyer James Donovan, it’s his scene partner Mark Rylance who owns the film with his wry humor. Best of all, the sincerity of Spies’s humanitarian message encourages you to look at the world differently – it’s the best of what America is and still can be. (Sean’s Review)

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (Disney)

5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Directed by J.J. Abrams

My appendix kept me from seeing this on opening night, but my eventual painkiller-fueled experience was pure bliss. Practical effects and physical locations! Harrison Ford! BB-8! The new cast rocks – John Boyega and Adam Driver are perfect foils, Oscar Isaac is having the time of his life, and Daisy Ridley is a bona fide star. J.J. Abrams won’t get enough credit for how he took on the most pressurized job in cinema history and, despite obstacles and constant rewrites, shepherded a new dawn for the franchise full of joy, thrills, and affection for what came before. (Chase’s Review)

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4. Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by George Miller

Not only the best pure action film of the year, but at the top of many critics’ lists, full stop. And it’s not hard to understand why, as George Miller’s exhilarating opus is a mainline hit of pure cinema crystal. The story may be simple – it’s a 2-hour chase sequence! – but the imagination on display is staggering: a riot of colors, war paint, kickass vehicles, and mythic characters like “The Doof Warrior.” Charlize Theron is a force of nature, the perfect avatar for Miller’s defiantly feminist message, as the entire enterprise barrels along just along the edge of insanity. (Sean’s Review)

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3. Inside Out
Directed by Pete Docter

From my review: “Inside Out is a candy-colored, heart-yanking masterpiece. It bursts with creativity in every frame, and pulls off the (increasingly) rare trick of showing us something we’ve truly never seen before: the inside of a child’s mind as part command center, part warehouse, part theme park, and every bit of it ringing true. Unlike Up, which hit like a sledgehammer, Inside Out builds slowly, laying on the pressure and anxiety, until in the final act the dam bursts and its unexpected power washes over you like a tidal wave. A gift for parents, kids, and everyone else.”

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2. The Martian
Directed by Ridley Scott

From my review: “There should be an entire generation of young people whose minds have been captured by The Martian, and the ingenuity, camaraderie, and creativity it depicts. Thanks to Drew Goddard’s genuinely funny script and committed performances from Matt Damon and the others, it’s a rare example of everything coming together just right: a lovingly crafted, incredibly smart film that gives no indication of how tricky it was to pull off. 77-year-old Ridley Scott makes it look so easy, you have to ask why he’s been letting himself slum it for this long.”

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1. Spotlight
Directed by Tom McCarthy

From my review: “Its terrific ensemble never hits a false note, and McCarthy’s steady direction emphasizes old-fashioned shoe leather as well as any film since All the President’s Men. Spotlight is slow-burning story of systemic corruption, dogged reporting, and world-shaking revelations, but it’s told with humanity and grace. It’s about regret and redemption. It’s about religion and community. It’s low-key and grown-up, never devolving into histrionics, injecting unnecessary drama, or getting too comfortable with itself. And it’s the best film of 2015.”

For last year’s list, click here.
For more of our Best of 2015 coverage, click here.


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