Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My Favorite Movies of 2015

I've been doing this for a decade now. Here are my favorite movies of the year.

10. Beasts of No Nation

Netflix made a big bid for this in an effort to get into the prestige movie niche like they’re in the prestige TV niche. It didn’t really work, as the movie didn’t pick up any Oscar nominations, which is too bad because it’s a great movie. It’s an intense look at a kid who’s roped into becoming a child soldier in a civil war with no heroes. Idris Elba is particularly good as a charismatic but evil militia leader. It’s certainly not an uplifting movie but it’s powerful and memorable.

9. Ex Machina

This got a lot of hype in the spring when it was released in the US, and rightfully so. It’s one of the best science fiction movies of the past few years, a drama that works not only in terms of the interaction between the human programmer Caleb and the robot Ava but also as an exploration of the larger themes of sentience and self-awareness. It’s easy with those sorts of themes for the characters and drama to take a backseat, but that doesn’t happen here. It’s a really smart film and I can’t wait to see what director Alex Garland does next.

8. Sicario

With a talented cast and a drug war theme, you wouldn’t expect the cinematography to be the star of this movie, but it may be the most gorgeously shot movie all year. The long shots of the deserts and border towns of the southwest are just so striking. Roger Deakins did a phenomenal job here. Emily Blunt delivers a tremendous performance as well and that helps to overcome a story that’s hard to swallow at times.

7. The Revenant

This is not exactly a movie to be enjoyed, but my god what an experience. Alejandro Inarritu throws you into an absolutely savage world and doesn’t let you up for air. I left the theater wondering why Leonardo DiCaprio would agree to even play that role. Forget having to experience what the character went through; just playing that role must have been hell. It’s a little lower on my list because it’s so grim, but as far as experiences in a movie theater this year it’s right up there at the top.

6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Okay, so it didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. Force Awakens felt almost like a remake of New Hope thematically. However, for people who love Star Wars, the familiar tone struck all the right notes and was thoroughly satisfying after the prequel movies went off in some undesired directions. Rey is a great protagonist, the original actors were used well, and I can’t wait for Episodes VIII and IX.

5. The Martian

Everything about this movie works. The setting on Mars is convincing and desolate. The cast is consistently really strong, even in the smaller roles. The story is dramatic and makes you root for Matt Damon’s character as increasing obstacles are thrown at him. If this is Ridley Scott’s last great movie, it’s an impressive feat over 35 years after Alien.

4. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

This fell under the radar a little bit, which is a shame, because it’s the most touching movie of the year to me. The story, adapted from the book by Jesse Andrews, is about a high school kid who develops a friendship with a girl suffering from leukemia. He’s still discovering himself in his young life, filming goofy little short films and making questionable decisions, while trying to come to grips with her reality. It’s at times messy and sad, silly and uplifting. It’s just a great little low budget film and the best movie of that type this year.

3. Inside Out

As a massive fan of Pixar, it was disappointing to see a series of underwhelming movies by the studio since 2010’s Toy Story 3. It felt like Pixar was running out of steam as far as producing unique, novel stories. Luckily, Inside Out reversed that trend in a big way. The premise is smart, the melancholy tone really hits home and the message of the movie is an idea I hadn’t really thought of but that I think has a lot of merit. It’s just a fantastic overall movie.

2. Creed

When I heard that they were making a movie about the son of Apollo Creed with the director and star of Fruitvale Station, I was immediately sold. Creed might have even over-delivered a little on my original expectations. It’s a great action movie with likeable characters and a satisfying direction. Like Force Awakens, it borrows much from its predecessor, but it feels fresher. I can’t wait to see where Ryan Coogler goes from here. He’s the best young director out there for my money.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is the best action movie in years. The cinematography is just incredible, the world is so unique and different, and it keeps pushing from beginning to end. The funny thing is I wasn’t even that big of a fan of the original three Mad Max movies but this one I found tremendously gripping. I’m so pleased that it got year end recognition because it isn’t the sort of movie that tends to and it is very much deserving. If you didn’t see it in the theater, you missed out. It’s what the big screen was made for.