Here are my top 15 films of 2015 (in no particular order):
1). “Spotlight” (2015)
The true story of how a group of reporters from the Boston Globe uncovered the huge scandal of child molestation and cover-up by the local Catholic Archdiocese. This is one of the best films of the year and very reminiscent of “All the President’s Men” where a group of reporters fight both the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the city leaders to get the facts of a story that has far-reaching implications. The ensemble cast is brilliant, led by Mark Ruffalo, who plays a gruff investigative reporter and his counterpart, a reporter who sees the good in most people, played by Rachel McAdams. Ruffalo gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a world-weary reporter who won’t give up. The story is riveting and tense, and the sets are perfect spanning between the cramped spaces of the newsroom to the contrast of the lavish Cardinal’s residence. This is an intense and moving film that perfectly captures a dark moment in time.
2). “The Big Short” (2015)
Four outsiders in the world of big banking predict the housing market is going to collapse in 2008. Can these four outsiders take on big banks and make money doing it? This is a funny, creative film that one moment will make you laugh and then in the next moment, will piss you off. The ensemble cast is brilliant with a couple of real standout performances. Christian Bale plays the brilliant but incredibly strange Michael Burry, the man who figures out that the housing market is about to crash. Bale gives his everything to an intense, quirky filled role that only he can do. Steve Carell gives a scintillating performance as the always angry Mark Baum, who decides to go all in on the theory that the crisis will happen I don’t want to ruin anything, but there are some really funny celebrity appearances to explain the very complicated financial workings. I never thought I would thoroughly enjoy a film about banking and housing, but this film makes it a blast to watch.
3). “Ex Machina” (2015)
A computer coder named, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), wins a chance to spend the week at the mountain home of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the man who owns the company where Caleb is employed. It turns out, though, that Caleb is there to test Nathan’s latest experiment, a life-like robot named, Ava (Alicia Vikander). Ex Machina is one of the best pictures I have seen this year and is an outstanding film with a highly creative script. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson are perfect on the screen together, giving us a great “cat and mouse game” of a film. The story line is rich, and the characters are complex, which makes this film an extraordinary experience. This is a film that will be the standard-bearer of great Sci-Fi films for years to come.
4). “Creed” (2015)
The illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan), wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a boxer. He is willing to do just about anything to reach his goal, including moving to Philly to get the man who beat his father, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), to help him train. This is one of the best films of the year and has some of the greatest fight sequences I have ever seen. There is a fight in the film where we follow Adonis from the cramped dressing room to the small ring in a seedy auditorium, that in one continuous shot that doesn’t cut away till the whole fight is completed. It’s a spectacular sequence that punctuates this film with a bang. Jordan sizzles on-screen as the troubled but talented son of Apollo Creed. Stallone gives an Oscar-worthy performance that is understated and moving. Jordan and Stallone have phenomenal chemistry that makes this film work from all angles. This film is a nice homage to the “Rocky” films without getting too campy or sweet, and the final fight sequence is thrilling and just as exciting as any action film that has come out in the past few years. Just like the original Rocky, you will want to see Creed more than once.
5). “Amy” (2015)
The possible frontrunner for the Oscar. It’s a documentary on the late great singer Amy Winehouse, who died too soon. This movie is a stunning and heartbreaking film to watch. I wasn’t a fan of Winehouse, but I am now because we get to see Amy in her early years before fame came crashing down on her. The film uses home videos, behind the scenes shots of her recording studio sessions and live concert footage to give us an insight into her life and what she was really like. We also see her downfall, the talented singer who was not ready or meant for the spotlight. Amy would have had a long and happy life just being a lounge singer, but fame came calling. “Amy” is a moving film that uses Winehouse’s music to brilliantly illustrate what was going on in her life. Even if you aren’t a Winehouse fan, you will want to see this documentary.
6). “The Martian” (2015)
A mission to Mars goes bad as a storm forces the astronauts to quickly abandon the planet. Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is lost in the storm and is presumed dead by NASA and his crew. Left behind on a planet where life doesn’t exist, Mark must figure out how to survive long enough to be rescued. This is a film that needs to be seen on the big screen. The special effects are extraordinary, and the film is filled with thrilling scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat. What makes this film so enjoyable is that Mark Watney uses his sense of humor as a coping mechanism. The film is filled with Watney quips as he deals with the harsh Martian world. Matt Damon is brilliant as the plucky astronaut that is determined to survive.
7). “It Follows” (2015)
For nineteen-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe), life should be all about school and boys. After having sex in what should have been an innocent sexual encounter, she finds herself having visions and the feeling that she is being followed. This movie is a scary, inventive horror film that keeps building the suspense until the very end. The film is very reminiscent of the classic 1978 John Carpenter film, “Halloween,” right down to a perfectly matched musical score. I loved the performances of the very young cast including Maika Monroe. If you are a fan of horror or suspense films, you will want to see this one.
8). “Trainwreck” (2015)
Amy (Amy Schumer) has spent her whole life thinking that monogamy was not for her. Then she met Aaron (Bill Hader), and her world changed. I loved this romantic comedy with a twist. Usually, it’s the guy who is a cad and whose life is changed when he meets the girl. This film turns that idea on its ear as Amy Schumer plays a woman who doesn’t want commitment, and, in fact, she wants the guy to leave as soon as sex is over. Cuddling to Amy is like a death sentence, and spending the weekend together is her idea of hell. Then she meets Aaron and, against every fiber of her being, she starts falling for him. Hader is exceptional as the straight man in the film, and he and Schumer work well together on-screen. Lebron James is funny as himself, playing Aaron’s best friend. James delivers lines with a comedic touch that a lot of current comedians can’t do. John Cena is brilliant as Amy’s go-to sex partner who develops feelings for her. This is Schumer’s film, and she is outstanding in the role, and she dominates the screen with her staggering timing. This is a film that delivers from start to finish, making it breathtakingly funny and touching at the same time. That’s something you rarely see in today’s comedies.
9). “Inside Out” (2015)
Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is dealing with a lot in her young life; a move from the Midwest to San Francisco, a new school and having to make friends. Good thing she has emotions, Joy, Disgust, Sadness, Fear and Anger to help her cope. This film is destined to be a classic, in-line with other great Pixar films like “Toy Story” (1995), “Finding Nemo” (2003) and “Up” (2009). The film has a brilliantly written script and contains an inventive storyline. Amy Poehler is phenomenal as the character Joy, and Lewis Black is priceless as Anger. The film is funny, a joy to watch (no pun intended) and melts your heart. Though made in 3-D, it’s not necessary to see the movie in 3-D as it didn’t add anything to the experience. Don’t miss this film that the whole family will fall in love with and teaches us, it’s OK to have feelings.
10). “Love & Mercy” (2015)
The story of Brian Wilson, the talented but troubled songwriter who led “The Beach Boys” to the top of the charts. This is one of the better films of the year. You wouldn’t think that two different actors (in this case Paul Dano and John Cusack) could play the same man at different points in his life and make it work, but this film does. Dan is brilliant as the younger Brian Wilson, who, at the start of the film, has decided to stop touring and concentrate on songwriting. Cusack gives one of his better performances as an older Brian Wilson, who is strung out on drugs prescribed by his psychiatrist. I loved Elizabeth Banks in the role of the woman determined to help Brian escape the controlling clutches of his psychiatrist (played by the always brilliant Paul Giamatti). This film gives you real insight into the brilliance of the slightly crazy mind of Wilson. It’s an astonishing bit of filmmaking and one not to be missed.
11). “Frame by Frame” (2015)
In a country where taking a photo was once a crime; this documentary follows for Afghan photojournalists as they attempt to keep Journalism alive in a country that is just trying to survive. This moving and informative film shows the passion and courage of a group of people who are trying to inform the world about their country and the struggle of everyday life. The film uses interviews, past footage and cinema verite to show just how hard the daily strife to keep the truth flowing.
12). “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
In a world where everything and everyone are fought over, a man called, Max (Tom Hardy), just might be the man to restore order. If you haven’t seen any of the Mad Max films, don’t worry, though this one does reference the past films during the credits. This film gets moving right from the start and never lets up on the accelerator. The film is a blast to watch, and Tom Hardy is brilliant as Max. Even finer is Charlize Theron, who brings a tough, multilevel performance to the screen as Imperator Furiosa, a woman who is trying to escape to a better place. “is hilarious as Nux, a sad sack bad guy who can never get anything right. The action sequences are breathtaking, and there is so much going on, you might want to see this film twice. This is a car lover’s dream, as there is an array of custom cars of all types in the film, and it’s a usual world that director George Miller always creates. This world is not a place where you would want to live, but you will definitely want to visit.
13). “Carol” (2015)
Set in 1950s New York, Therese (Rooney Mara) is a department-store clerk who dreams of a better life. She meets and falls in love with an older woman, Carol (Cate Blanchett). This is a beautiful film that takes its time with the love story between Carol and Therese. It captures 50s New York City perfectly, as we travel from the posh, stylish settings that make up Carol’s life to the contrasting life of Therese and her hard-living friends. Blanchett is utterly mesmerizing as the sophisticated Carol, who set her sights on the slightly naive Therese. Rooney makes this film worth watching as she holds her own on the screen with the two-time Oscar winner Blanchett. You will be captivated by their story and will root for them to find a way to succeed in the world that works against them.
14). “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (2014)
In a town that is full of people doing bad things, no one notices that there is a new woman (Sheila Vand), a woman who just happens to be a vampire. I loved this film, and it has one of the best soundtracks of any film of the past five years. It’s very stylish, shot in black and white, with the main character, the mysterious woman, almost uttering no lines throughout the film. It’s a mixture of a modern vampire film with bits of an Italian Spaghetti Western thrown in. Vand is perfect in the role of the woman who only comes out at night and wears a long, black cape. If you are a fan of horror films I highly recommend this one.
15). “Room” (2015)
At age 15 Joy (Brie Larson) was kidnapped by Old Nick (Sean Bridges) and placed in a shed in his backyard. Seven years later, Joy and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) haven’t seen the outside other than the small skylight in the ceiling. Joy has a plan to get her son out, but it may kill her. From the opening frame, you are pulled into the strange and small world of Joy and Jack. Director Lenny Abrahamson and screenwriter Emma Donoghue have crafted a film that fully immerses you the characters’ tiny world. We very quickly learn what Joy deals with on a daily basis, living in a space that is only 10 x 10 and having a child who doesn’t understand just how big, bright and loud the world is outside the walls of the room. I think Brie Larson is one of the best young actresses in Hollywood, and she gives another brilliant performance in this film, but the film is made by the performance of Tremblay. He more than holds his own with Larson and is the core of the movie. Jack is the center of the film, and it takes an impressive actor to pull it off, which he does with flying colors. Everything we see and hear is from the viewpoint of Tremblay’s character, which makes his performance even more remarkable. Tremblay plays Jack as a loving son who isn’t afraid to pushes back when he feels he is being wronged. It takes a strong personality to grasp a role like this, and Tremblay gives an intelligent performance that, while filled with childlike wonder, is also brimming with emotion that is beyond his young age. Without giving anything away, “Room” is let down a little by its 2nd half, but it’s not too hard a fall, and the film doesn’t disappoint with its ending. However, it’s the performances Larson and especially Tremblay that make this movie so emotional and powerful. Both actors, with Oscar-worthy performances give us everything they have and that, in this case, is quite a lot.
Honorable Mention: “Sicario,” “Jafar Panaji’s Taxi,” “Mistress America,” “Straight Outta Compton.” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “When Marnie Was There,” “Sunshine Superman,” “Wild Tales,” “Meru,” “Listen to Me Marlon,” “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “Clouds of Sils Maria,” “Finders Keepers,” “The Walk,” “Mission Impossibl – Rogue Nation,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”