The Fateful 15: My 15 Favorite Films of 2015

Boy, 2015 was quite a year; both personally and movie-wise.

I found myself gravitating more and more to smaller, simpler films this year. Not out of some misplaced cry against “the system” or big-budget spectacles (I saw and enjoyed my fair share of those this year); nor is it because I have some higher palette when it comes to the movies I favor. This was simply a great year for movies that gave us simple stories as opposed to complex, universe-building mega-franchises.

I don’t really want to go over plots here so I’ll leave that to the trailers I’ve also included. I’m not even planning on going into great detail either (I’m currently suffering from an undisclosed sickness -coughDepressioncough- and trying to get this done quickly) so my apologies for the broadness of my praise…just now I loved all of the movies on this list and recommend you see them all now…like right now…stop reading this….GET OUT OF HERE.

As I am writing this, I have yet to see the following critically acclaimed films:

Carol, The Revenant, Son of Saul, Brooklyn, The Tribe, Victoria, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Anomalisa, Spotlight and many, many, MANY more.

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Not often do I see a movie that I am almost immediately willing to call an instant classic.

Fury Road stands shoulder to shoulder with the best action movie ever made, including AliensDie Hard and The Raid: Redemption and it is without a doubt my favorite film of 2015.

George Miller has spearheaded a film that, by all rights, shouldn’t even exist given the size of its budget and its lengthy (and tumultuous) production. After all this is a movie that has had almost as many false starts as Stephen King’s Dark Tower adaptation and The Hobbit. Hell, I remember first hearing about it as far back as 2003, right around when I first started perusing the internet for movie news. Well given THIS is the movie we got, the wait was well worth it.

No other film spoke the visual language of cinema better this year than Fury Road. Each and every aspect is completely perfect; pacing, tone, score, acting, editing, the list goes on and on. You can get into thematic aspects about how this movie is feminist, but

As Miller intended, you could watch this film with no dialogue at all, and still get a completely insane and glorious experience.  I hate to hype a film up so much but this was one for the ages and I don’t care who knows it. Like Ron Burgundy, I want to declare my love from on top of a mountain…flutes playing and trombones and flowers and garlands of fresh herbs…AND YOU WON’T BE INVITED.

This is the cream of the crop for 2015, people. Witness it. 

Click here for my full review.

Ex Machina 

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The best Twilight Zone episode never written.

I’m a fan of almost any movie that could also function as a play and this is one that borders on theatric more than almost any other this year, with the exception being a certain film by a certain Quentin Tarantino that I will get to shortly. Ex Machina primarily consists of three major players (all three leads, Domhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Issac, have all had a PHENOMENAL year) with two minor recurring roles. If this were a just world, all three would be up for Oscars for their work here. Oscar Issac for the sheer power of his dance moves alone.

Ex Machina isn’t about whether Ava is good or evil. Writer/director Alex Garland is more concerned with whether she/it can even grasp what those concepts are. More importantly, he wants you to fall to her/its spell and in doing so what we consider human, both literally and as an idea.

It’s a movie that gives you new treats, thoughts and revelations with each viewing. Every time I see it, I leave with different feelings which speaks well for its longevity.

What We Do in the Shadows

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Hands down the best comedy of 2015 in a year with a surprisingly weak turnout for comedies, What We Do in the Shadows is part parody, part homage. Like Shaun of the Dead did for zombie films over 10 years ago, Shadows manages to take all of the troupes, cliches, imagery and what-have-you from decades worth of vampire movies, subverts them to hilarious effect but the genuine love for the genre can be felt in every home run of a joke this film makes in its all too short (but ultimately perfect) 90-minute runtime.

This is probably the movie I saw most this year. There’s just so many jokes, both upfront and in the background, that it demands multiple viewings. Being a comedy, I can’t really say why its as funny as it is. Just take my word for it…or don’t, I guess. My opinion matters very little, but this is still a funny movie so go see it…please?

Inside Out

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This is a movie that could actually help people. Now I want to stress that this movie shouldn’t be used as a substitute for actual therapy or medication. What I mean is, that this movie could serve as a gateway for both children and adults to opening up about our emotions and actually trying to understand them in a society that seems to favor masking and fearing them.

For example, there was a scene so cathartic in this movie (when the importance, neigh necessity, of Sadness is finally realized) that I didn’t exactly cry but was hallowed out for what felt like months. I had never thought to look at it at the way it is presented here and it was so therapeutic that I wished this movie had been made a decade earlier for a younger version of me to experience. 

All of the emotions are voiced perfectly…like almost eerily so. If there was an Oscar for casting, this movie would be the top contender. (Seriously for Lewis Black as Anger alone this movie deserves all of the awards.) 

Director Pete Doctor and the masterminds over at Pixar have crafted a movie that will stand among the best in the company’s history. It’s filled to the brim with such lofty ideas, clever gags, background brilliance that is destined to be a movie that we are going to be talking about for years and years to come.

The Hateful 8 

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On the surface, this is a movie about bad people doing bad things to one another. Like its sister film, Reservoir Dogs, however, this is a movie with a TON happening between the lines. It’s Tarantino at his most theatric and his most political. We aren’t supposed to like this people. We are supposed to despise them, yet ultimately recognize ourselves in them. When put under the right (or wrong conditions), any one of us can fall to our baser natures including jealousy, distrust, racism and the like.

Speaking of Dogs, its remarkable to see how far Tarantino has come as a director in regards to his use of tension, subtly and dialogue. This is a movie that is carried by all three and like a play, once that intermission hits, you’ll have a shit ton to discuss and think about even before Act II begins.

Looking at talkbacks, this movie has received a…let’s say “mixed” reaction…in other words, what I can only assume is Tarantino’s intent. This is a movie that’s making people talk, and its certainly doing that.

Sicario 

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This may be the movie I revisit the least on this list. Not because it is a chore to sit through or anything of that nature. Quite the contrary actually. No, the reason is that this movie pulls no punches. In other words, you don’t leave feeling particularly good by its end.

A cynical look at the drug war being raged both in the States and across the border, Sicario is a movie that is much more than the sum of its parts. It works both as a searing drama, a tension-filled action vehicle and a political statement all in one. Director Denis Villeneuve is three-for-three with his cinematic output at this point. Combined with the visuals of Roger Deakins, there was no way this wouldn’t make my “Best of…” list by the end of the year.

Both Emily Blunt and Benecio del Toro deliver career-best performances. del Toro in particular deserves a certain amount of praise for the quiet yet devastating performance on display.

Click here for my full review.

Room

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Room was the biggest surprise of the year for me. I went in completely blind and left completely blown away. I’m glad I didn’t see the trailer before going in, but seeing it doesn’t ruin the movie by any means. It only alleviates some of the tension regarding Joy and her young son Jack escaping the titular room.

The movie isn’t really about the room however. This is a movie about how different people deal with trauma. Like Sicario, this movie pulls very little punches in regards to the horrible things Joy has been put through but this movie has a different intent and actually provides glimpses of hope at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Brie Larson no longer has nothing to prove and now stands side-by-side with the greatest actors/actresses working today. In turn, her young co-star Jacob Tremblay is equally mesmerizing and does just as much emotional heavy-lifting as his older counterpart.

Creed

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Creed gets back to the bare-bones of what makes the Rocky franchise so great.

Like The Force Awakens and Jurassic World, the film borrows/lifts narrative points from its predecessors with new faces filling the parts. Unlike The Force Awakens or Jurassic World however, Creed isn’t burdened with an overriding need to pay homage to what came before. Sure, it moves the Rocky franchise forward  but Creed is definitively concerned with telling its own story.

Director Ryan Coogler approaches the franchise film with such confidence and gusto that you would think this was directed by a much more seasoned director. (This is Coogler’s second full-length film to date.) I’m excited to see where he goes in the future of the strength of his first two films alone. Fingers crossed he headed towards directing a little movie about a certain Marvel character called Black Panther.

Michael B. Jordan recovers with earlier franchise blunder Fantastic Four, and delivers one of the strongest performances of his young career. He imbues the titular Creed with all the rage and hunger of an embodies that just breaks your heart. Similarly Slyvester Stallone returns as Rocky Balboa and gives his best performance since he first put on the boxing gloves. As improbable as it sounds, I sense some serious Oscar potential.

Bridge of Spies

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Can we just have Steven Spielberg direct all of our period piece procedurals from here on out? The guy is two-for-two between this and Lincoln. In a year full of spy movies, Bridge of Spies offered a old fashioned somber, even-keeled alternative. It harkens back to the Cold War thrillers of yesteryear, were battles were thought with words, not guns.

This film revels in dialogue and actual suspense, which is a common thread of a lot of movies I love most share. I think this is in large part thanks to the script by Matt Charman and JOEL AND ETHAN COEN. A Spielberg/Coen Brothers collaboration is enough to make any moderate film fan salivate. The result is as absurd, lovable and utterly watchable as one would expect.

Tom Hanks does his best Jimmy Stewart as James B. Donovan, one of those true life heroes  that find themselves at the right place at the right time in history that Spielberg is so fond of. It’d almost be unbelievable if the character were played by anyone other than Tom Hanks. Renowned Mark Rylance (who will reteam with Spielberg next year for The B.F.G.) steals scenes as the Russian spy that finds himself at the center of a trade between the US and the Soviet Union. His scenes with Hanks are some of the film’s best thanks in no small part to the duo’s natural chemistry.

Click here for my full review. 

Phoenix

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 Speaking of old fashioned, Phoenix is a classic noir thriller that takes an unbelievable premise and overwhelmingly succeeds by underplaying it.

We see a country and a woman in the middle of a crossroads in terms of their identity. Jewish nightclub singer Nelly (Nina Hoss) has returned to post-war Berlin after receiving extensive facial reconstruction surgery due to being disfigured in a concentration camp while Germany is looking to find its feet after a crushing defeat to the Allies as well as the Holocaust. Nelly is on a quest to find her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), who may or may not have turned her over to the Nazis to save his own skin. Once she finds him however he doesn’t recognize her, but due to her passing resemblance to his wife (who presumes to have long since died), he cuts her into a scheme to acquire her own inheritance.

Director Christian Petzold favors subtly and nuance over theatrics, which ultimately lead to the film’s success. It also sports perhaps the greatest ending of any movie this year. I won’t spoil it but like the movie as a whole it is a testament to economic editing and phenomenal acting.

It’s currently available on Netflix, and I highly recommend you give it a watch if you have not already.

The Martian 

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Or “How Ridley Scott Got His Groove Back.”

The Martian was a welcome return to form for the iconic director, thanks in no small part to a phenomenal ensemble cast led by the ever-talented, ever-punching Mat Damon and screenplay brimming with likability from Drew S. Goddard.

Unlike last year’s rather dour Interstellar, The Martian never really gives into despair regardless of the utterly hopeless situation our hero finds himself. We know Mark Watney is fucked, but that isn’t going to stop his chipper attitude and never-say-die attitude.

Also it gets a massive plus is that this is very much a “team movie.” There aren’t any real villains. It’s simply about smart people trying to save one person and one smart person trying to stay alive long enough for smart people to save him.

Click here for my full review.

Steve Jobs 

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It’s rather annoying the levels of people casually dismissing this movie without having seen it on the snarky basis of it being a movie about Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs.

I get it. The canonization of Jobs after his death is bit much, but to deny the man led an interesting and complicated existence is to be glib. If this movie were to have any major sin it would be that it falls a bit under Jobs’ spell at the very, VERY end but for the most part it paints the best, most compelling portrait of a man that was anything but perfect.

We get Jobs’ life in three acts, each of which takes place on the eve of a major product launch, a unique approach to the somewhat stale biopic subgenre.

Every aspect of this movie screams: OSCAR BAIT, however it never concerns itself with prestige and instead gives us Jobs the man, not Jobs the god nor does it exist to service Jobs exclusively. Michael Fassbender is great at the titular character but its the supporting cast that left the biggest impression on me, particularly and most surprisingly Seth Rogen’s Steve Wozniak.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin writes veritable action scenes with his dialogue here. The sequence involving Jobs confrontation mentor/friend/boss John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and the former’s expulsion from Apple may go down as the most thrilling of the year.  Sorkin’s writing, Danny Boyle’s direction, Elliot Graham’s editing and Fassbender and Daniels’ performances are all on fire and had me on the edge of seat with not so much as a single explosion.

Cop Car

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It’s kind of shame this movie didn’t reach a wider audience but given that John Wells is about to become a much bigger name due to his next job as director of certain Marvel film revolving around your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, I’m sure it will be seen by more and more people as the latter movie’s release date looms closer.

It’s Duel meets Stand By Me with a little bit of a Coen Brothers movie thrown in for good measure.

From the first scene, I was hooked just by how natural the kid actors spoke back and forth. By the time we get to the mystery of how the titular cop car came to be abandoned and the cat-and-mouse game being played by figures we really don’t get a grasp on until the third act, I couldn’t look away.

No spoilers, but I recommend going into this knowing very little.

It Follows

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Honest to goodness dread is a pretty damn hard thing to convey in a movie. It Follows does it so well that it makes you wonder if anyone else making horror movies these days is even trying.

Writer-director David Robert Mitchell imbues his teenage cast of characters with the right amount of accuracy and maturity that feel downright refreshing in the modern horror landscape, but importantly never lets us forget that these are still teenagers.

Another thing I fucking loved was how we learn “the rules” organically over the course of the film, instead of all the exposition being dropped on us in one solid brick of a scene. Take note, other horror movies: Knowing more about a scary thing makes said scary thing less scary. It’s a delicate balance giving us just the right amount of information in a movie. Too little and you get Prometheus. Too much and you get any number of the horror prequels we’ve seen over the past 5 years. It Follows gives a monster we can interpret but never fully understand. Like Cop Car, it succeeds by implementing the “less is more” approach to story-telling.

My only real minor nit-pick is that movie seemingly breaks these rules, as established, near the climax.

Click here for my full review.

Turbo Kid

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I saw a ton of fun movies in 2015, and by fun I mean they certainly aren’t going to win a ton of awards but they are going to win a ton of smiles from me.

Turbo Kid was probably the most fun I had watching in movie over the past year, and this is a year that includes Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I’ve watched a lot of bad movies over the past year. Turbo Kid lovingly pays homage to the endless stream of cheesy science fiction flicks of the 1980s without ever coming off as a pandering pieces of shit (much like the Sharknado films that I absolutely despise).

It gets dark at times and it is incredibly violent (perhaps the goriest film I saw this year), but it never loses that sheen of innocence and enthusiasm that makes the film such an utter joy to watch.

The cast is uniformly great and full of unknowns (with the exception of character actor legend and utter badass Michael Ironside), with the real find being Laurence Leboeuf as Apple. The film’s likability is at all time highs when she is onscreen. I was worried about her character falling to the “Manic Pixie Dreamgirl” troupe but given what we learn about her character later on, those worries melted away pretty quickly.

 Turbo Kid is a lot of things, but most of all, it is a blast. Much like Fury Road, it’s A-class world building but unlike the other film, it operates on a meager budget; making it utterly impressive for similar yet different reasons. Give it a look see, and get ready to fall in love with the futuristic world of 1997.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Spotlight, The End of the Tour, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, Electric Boogaloo, Trainwreck, Call Me Lucky, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation, Amy and Ant-Man.

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