Um…this was a dismal fucking year for me watching movies, so I’m going to tell you up front: don’t take this list very seriously. That’s not to say I’m making things up or I didn’t love any of the movies listed here – I did, to one degree or another – but it IS to say that the list should be considered…incomplete. Because I saw a dreadfully small number of films this year. How small? So small that I’m not going to tell you exactly how many. Probably the fewest I’ve seen in the nearly twelve years that I’ve been in Los Angeles, where you can see literally everything.
I. Am. Shame.
A potential byproduct of that is that I didn’t see a movie this year that I felt transcended filmmaking for me, that really knocked me on my ass in some way. Usually there’s a movie or two like that every year – HER, ABOUT TIME, DRIVE come to mind in recent years – but this year was devoid of anything like those for me. There was a LOT that I dug, but little felt important to me on a personal level. So the question becomes, then…what exists in the films I missed? HATEFUL EIGHT. ROOM. LOOK OF SILENCE. CAROL. ANOMALISA. A few others. My hope is that there’s something beyond special to discover from last year still waiting out there for me. That hope takes some of the sting out of my cinematic laziness.
Alright, enough of my whinging. For the sixteen of you about to read this, my usual disclaimer: this is really a list of favorites. There are terrific films from this year that won’t crack my Top Ten that were sensational in some ways (THE REVENANT), that didn’t land with me like they did with others (SPOTLIGHT), and even one that I loved to pieces but whose fans are so fucking annoying about that I’ve grown a slight distaste for it (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD). End of the day, this is all about what I enjoyed the most and what I think I’ll be rewatching more often than the rest of the field ten years from now.
Here we go:
BEST MOVIE MOMENT OF THE YEAR: BB-8’s lighter. Holy crap was that ever just a nanobit of pure comedic brilliance.
BEST DIALOGUE OF THE YEAR: We have a tie!
“Coach lands on the runway at the exact same time as first class.” – STEVE JOBS
(Let me honest: there are about a dozen lines from STEVE JOBS that could have made this list. I just happen to think this one is the wisest and most succinct.)
“It doesn’t matter that he comes from the other side of the world. It doesn’t matter that he’s a different species or that he has a worrying marmalade habit. We love Paddington. And that makes him family. And families stick together.” – PADDINGTON
(Not only hilariously delivered by Hugh Bonneville, but a straight, honest summation about the spiritual definition and meaning of “family”.)
HONORABLE MENTION (in order of release):
EVERLY, CALL ME LUCKY, CINDERELLA, GET HARD, MISERY LOVES COMEDY, AGE OF ULTRON, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, TOMORROWLAND, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, THE WOLFPACK, THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT, VACATION, DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK, STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE, SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE, THE MARTIAN, SPOTLIGHT, THE NIGHT BEFORE, MAN UP, SISTERS, THE FORCE AWAKENS, THE REVENANT.
THE TOP TEN:
10. BRIDGE OF SPIES (Dir: Steven Spielberg, Writers: Matt Charman, The Coen Brothers)
One of my favorite scripts of the year, hands down. Took a story that probably played out in real life with extreme human ugliness but dared to hope, without ever picking ideological sides, that there’s still room on conflict-riddled Earth for humanity. Perhaps that’s Utopian and perhaps it leaves the film feeling less consequential than it should, but this felt like Spielberg leaning on old fashioned populist filmmaking again, and that’s almost never a bad thing (though I’m looking directly at you with violent scorn, WAR HORSE). Would make a great double-feature with MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, I think.
9. PADDINGTON (Dir: Paul King, Writers: Hamish McColl, Paul King)
This is kind of a cheat, but as far as I’m aware, it didn’t screen in the US in 2014 and wasn’t officially released at all here until 2015, so I’m counting it as part of 2015. And I’m OK with bending the rules this year because it gives me an opportunity to implore you to see PADDINGTON now now now now now. It is slightly bonkers and plays through with a lovely gentleness and is somehow, also, still disturbingly funny. Nicole Kidman is so much fun as the villain and I’m convinced Hugh Bonneville is a comedic savant. Your kids will love this. But you might love it more.
8. SPY (Dir: Paul Feig, Writer: Paul Feig)
Man, did the trailers ever undersell this one. You owe it to yourself to ignore them and see it as soon as possible. Gleefully crass and not afraid to be absolutely stupid when the moment (and usually Jason Statham) calls for it. Just ahead of SISTERS and THE NIGHT BEFORE for the hardest/most consistent laughs of the year.
7. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (Dir: Guy Ritchie, Writers: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman, David C. Wilson)
Everybody skipped this one. Again, the trailers…geh. Not a great selling point. And look, I’ll admit up front that I’m an easy mark for Guy Ritchie. Everything he does just works for me. End of story. This was no different. The action is terrific and it’s typically hilarious (some exceptional Britishy gags here) and I personally can’t get enough of the whole 60s Gentleman Spy thing. I also think Armie Hammer is fundamentally great and criminally underused. In this one he’s definitely the former and not remotely the latter and aggravatingly no one saw it. Well…rectify that as soon as you can.
6. INSIDE OUT (Dir: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Writers: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley)
Just thinking about Bing Bong in my brain movies makes my eyes rain. Parts of this movie CRIPPLED me with melancholy. There is so much good stuff in here, and it *might* have been my favorite movie of the year, but I fundamentally loathe the way one thematic element was treated – the Islands. I HATED HATED HATED HATED HATED the execution of the Islands, and I could not get past that facet of the film. But the rest of it is SO FUCKING GREAT that the aforementioned boned note is worth being frustrated about for the rest of my life. It should be law that kids in middle school watch this twice a year.
5. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (Dir: Matthew Vaughn, Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn)
This movie is a blast on all levels. Goes for it in a way few movies have the balls to, and it nails it at every turn. I know there are a lot of people that have expressed latent guilt for the Southern Baptist Church sequence. I feel no guilt. It was the greatest couple minutes of my worst case scenario onscreen wish fulfillment in years. I love this movie all the way through and with no conditions.
4. EX MACHINA (Dir: Alex Garland, Writer: Alex Garland)
The most inventive, focused and mood-driven film of the year. It’s a weird embracing of where we’re headed as a species – biomechanical metahumanity – and how that progress will absolutely swallow us whole if we’re not careful. This is an amazing depiction of how power that we think we understand can run wildly away from us because, as is so often the case, we can’t even begin to understand it. Alex Garland has always been a sensational writer, but as it turns out, he might be an even better director. And man, did he ever pick a hell of a way to announce it.
3. STEVE JOBS (Dir: Danny Boyle, Writer: Aaron Sorkin)
I honestly believe this is, by leaps and bounds, the most poorly understood movie of the year. Either that or some people who I really respect saw a completely different movie than I. At no point did I ever see Steve Jobs (in this movie – I’m divorcing it completely from “real life”) as a hero or someone to be worshiped. I saw a man who had an unparalleled genius that prevented him from treating people like real people. He instead treated them like lab rats and pack mules, and at no point is that theme clearer to me than in the final scene with his daughter. I think people unloaded personal baggage on this movie like no other movie in a while, and I think that’s kind of awesome, even if they hated it. Also: still an unabashed Sorkin fanboy. I make no apologies.
2. SICARIO (Dir: Denis Villeneuve, Writer: Taylor Sheridan)
If I was *forced* to choose a BEST Movie of 2015, this would probably be it. The script is tight and twisted and absolutely brutal, but at the end of the day it owes how good it is mostly to how very, very, very good Denis Villeneuve is. The guy creates texture and tension like almost no one else. This is a Roger Deakins movie that has none of his iconic fingerprints on it, and that is not only SAYING something, but it’s a massive compliment to both Deakins and Villenueve. Add the look and feel to the script’s story and the dreadful, ominous sense of torturous tension that permeates them from beginning to end, and you have a film that should be at the top of your watchlist if it’s not there already.
1. THE BIG SHORT (Dir: Adam McKay, Writers: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay)
Not only my favorite movie of the year but, I’m convinced, the best writing of the year – yes, even above and beyond what Sorkin did. This film had a near-impossible task: take last decade’s near-apocalyptic financial crisis and explain it to the average moviegoer without clunky exposition and in a way they could understand without becoming a veritable coloring book. And MAN, did this script ever pull it off. I thought quite highly of Adam McKay as a comedy director before this movie, but THE BIG SHORT brought me to a whole other level of appreciation for him: he is an out-and-out filmmaker now. This is an ensemble cast that needed some very big, complicated performances wrung out of it, and at no point did McKay lose focus of or control over the material. Everyone involved puts in career-defining work, and Ryan Gosling’s tan deserves its own wing at the Smithsonian. Plain and simple: this movie got everything right, and I can’t wait to watch it over and over again in the coming years.
Hope you enjoyed! If you didn’t, well…I hope you weren’t bored. “Not bored” is good enough for me. That’s where I am right now.
As a last note, I want to give a special shout-out to BONE TOMAHAWK, which I was loving unabashedly until work pulled me away from my viewing. I wholly reserve the right to slide it into this Top Ten at a later date, as I was enjoying it enough to consider it for such until I was unfortunately whisked adrift.