I’ve heard a lot of people commenting on 2015 as a year for movies, and surprisingly, I’ve heard a lot of negative remarks about it. While making my top fifteen list throughout the past few weeks though, I was struck by how many films this year I truly loved. Movies that when I thought about them, I was instantly ready to revisit and jump back into. Even more than usual this year too, I feel like I found a number of films that in a few years time, could end up being on my personal all-time favorite list.
But we’ll get to those soon.
Below you can find fifteen of my personal favorite movies of this year. Unlike my reviews though, this list is based purely on my own personal preference, and as such, while I might have given a more favorable review to one film than another, I may love the lesser more. For instance, last year my favorite film was Paul Thomas Anderson’s divisive Inherent Vice, and while it managed to frustrate more people than it excited, it continues to hold a special place in my heart as one of my favorite films of the decade so far.
So, with that being said, these fifteen films are the movies this year that spoke the most to me from either an emotional standpoint or from a purely cinematic level, that no other films quite achieved, and are the ones this year that I would most recommend.
Alex Garland’s directorial debut is visually exciting and intellectually stimulating in the best possible ways. Featuring one of the best sci-fi stories of the past few years, reminiscent of films by directors like Stanley Kubrick or even David Lynch at times, Ex Machina is something special from its very first frame and all the way to its last. Held together by an endearing performance by Domhnall Gleeson and an even more charismatic turn by Oscar Isaac as Nathan, the aggressive genius behind Ava (Alicia Vikander), an AI who the film centers on – Ex Machina manages to deliver an original and tense twist on the robot vs humanity stories we’ve become so familiar with over the years. At times funny, terrifying, shocking, and always awe-inspiring – Ex Machina has never let go of its grasp as one of the best films this year.
Let’s face it, we all knew this was going to be on here somewhere, and while Mad Max: Fury Road didn’t grab me emotionally like some of the other films on this list did, this mayhem extravaganza is one of the best action films of the past few years. Director George Miller managed to resurrect his franchise through not only a lead actor replacement, but also through a completely different film industry than the one he began the franchise in. Frankly, I have no idea how Fury Road exists, and judging by the comments that its stars and production team have made in the months since the film’s release, it doesn’t seem like they do either. All I know is, 2015 was better off for it.
Director Justin Kurzel followed up his brutal Snowtown Murders with this harrowing, gorgeous Shakespeare adaptation that, I believe, will be able to speak to both fans of the bard’s plays, and those who have always been somewhat resistant towards the material. The action sequences are stunning and Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography is some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen, but the performances from Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are where the film truly shines, as they navigate this familiar material in new, uncharted ways that left me pinned to my theatre seats as if under their spell. I saw this movie almost two months ago, and I still find myself thinking about it on a daily basis.
Director Adam McKay replaces his usual comedic projects with one of this year’s funniest, and angriest films. Its pure white rage is evident in every frame of The Big Short, as its entertaining cast of characters try to survive the 2008 housing market crash that left so many American citizens on the streets, and bank executives shrugging their shoulders and moving on. Featuring one of Steve Carell’s funniest and best performances to date, as well as a predictably solid turn from Christian Bale – the writing, directing, and acting in The Big Short are what will get you through its often hard-to-navigate financial terms and lingo. But its the film’s message that will make it resonant with you in the weeks to follow. Seeing Ryan Gosling shouting in a men’s bathroom about financial bonds is never a bad thing either.
Charlie Kaufman’s return to the film industry was a welcome one after films like Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But with the stop-motion animated Anomalisa, Kaufman has not only delivered his simplest film to date, but also one of his most resonant. Touching on some of our deepest feelings of loneliness and longing, while telling the simple story of one night in the life of a motivational speaker, and Kaufman and his co-director Duke Johnson have created a dreamlike film that will not only make you sit back and think about it, but also will make you feel emotions that not many other films are capable of. I said it in my review of the film, but there really isn’t anything else like Anomalisa.
Director Todd Haynes is no stranger to these kinds of period dramas, but with Carol, he has outdone himself. Based off of the novel “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith, the film follows the story of two women in the 1950s (played by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) as they slowly fall in love with each other, despite the personal and societal hurdles in their way. Carol is one of those few movies that I believe truly captured what it felt like to fall in love, from the small glances out of the corner of your eyes, to the shaky breathing before an intimate moment, Carol just felt authentic from beginning to end. While its style may leave some people cold, the gorgeous aesthetic only boosted the film’s story and emotion for me, making Carol one of the most engrossing experiences I had in 2015.
Director Ryan Coogler’s newest installment in the Rocky franchise might just be its best outing yet. Perfectly combining the elements of the original film that made it so beloved in the first place, while also telling a modern and updated version of a similar story, Creed was exactly the film that Rocky fans were looking for. Led by a charismatic pairing of Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, the film feels alive and justified from its first scene. Featuring a strong supporting performance from Tessa Thompson as well, it also contains one of the best one-take sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie. And no, I’m not exaggerating there. Stallone will likely be on the receiving end of a lot of awards buzz in the coming months as well, and after looking at his performance in the film, I’d be more-than-happy if he wins for Best Supporting in February.
The Mission: Impossible franchise has taken many forms at this point, and shown us an equally varying array of Tom Cruise haircuts. But the franchise finally reached its peak in my opinion this summer with Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible 5 – Rogue Nation. Hitchcockian in its tone and characters, Rogue Nation is the kind of enthralling summer blockbuster that I go to the movies to see. Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust is one of this year’s best female characters, and once you see the film, it won’t take long to understand why she’s one of 2015’s biggest breakout stars. Seeing her double-cross Ethan and his crew left and right is by far one of my favorite adventures I saw onscreen this year, and it was more than worth the price of admission for a third act chase sequence shot almost entirely in silhouette by cinematographer Robert Elswit.
Oh man, this one’s a trip. Alex Ross Perry has been slowly working towards Queen of Earth for years now, and I don’t think any of us quite realized it until we sat down to watch it. Opening with an unflinchingly tight shot of Elisabeth Moss’ Catherine in a state that we don’t usually see female characters in movies, Queen of Earth had me hooked from the moment she began her first of many contradictory statements. The film’s trailer boasts its story of “broken women”, and while that might sound like a gimmick, the film is a callback to those 1970s psychological thrillers that ran the art house scene at the time. Showcasing two of 2015’s best performances from Moss and her co-star Katherine Waterston as well, I felt sick to my stomach by the time Queen of Earth was over, and in the best way possible.
Director Denis Villenueve continued his recent streak following the phenomenal Prisoners and Enemy with one of the most intelligent crime thrillers I’ve ever seen in Sicario. The slow-moving, calculated film from screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is the perfect combination of style and substance, aided greatly by Roger Deakins’ breathtaking cinematography. Benicio del Toro delivers one of the best performances by an actor this year, and perhaps the best performance of his career up until this point. Tackling the war on drugs is no easy task, and after opening with one of the most horrific sequences of the year, the film’s tone is set. The best thing to do after that is to sit back and enjoy a tour-de-force outing from one of Hollywood’s most skilled filmmakers.
After a few years of mostly disappointing sequels and prequels, Pixar Animation took the year off in 2014 to work on some new projects and this year they came back with one of their best films yet in Inside Out. Diving into the mind of an 11-year old girl following a life-changing move across country, the film focuses on her central emotions including Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear. Containing universal truths about the way our emotions work, what could have been a heavy handed film, ended up being one of the most complex and intelligently-written films of the year, which has planted itself firmly near the top of my favorite Pixar movies. Every time I think they can’t get any better, they manage to prove me wrong.
I walked into Brooklyn expecting a somewhat formulaic romance film that would continue to cement my ever-growing love for actress Saoirse Ronan, and boy, did I underestimate Brooklyn. Based off of a spectacular screenplay from Nick Hornby, the film is the very definition of charming. Telling the story of an Irish girl, Eilis, who immigrates to America in the 1950s, falling in love in the States, before returning home for what is meant to be a short trip and meeting an equally endearing suitor. Emory Cohen as Tony, Eilis’ New York love is one of the biggest revelations this year and his and Ronan’s chemistry in the film is some of the best I’ve seen in 2015. Overall, Brooklyn is one of the most well-rounded films I’ve seen this year, and it’s been stuck in my mind, and heart, in the months since I saw it. I adore this movie.
I saw this film back in April when I caught it at a local film festival and I remember going into it expecting something hopefully great, both based on the film’s intriguing premise, and the idea of seeing the usually comedic Jason Segel playing real-life author David Foster Wallace. What I got was one of the most insightful films about ego, expectations, writing, and friendship that I’ve ever seen, and I knew the minute the film had ended that it would most likely be one of my all-time favorite movies by the time 2015 had ended. I was right. Segel is Oscar-worthy as Foster Wallace, and while he likely won’t be recognized in this year’s awards season – that doesn’t make his accomplishment here any less prolific. See The End of the Tour when you can, if I could recommend only a few things about this year in movies – that’d be one of the first ones.
Oh go ahead, tell me I’m having a knee jerk reaction to this. Do it. Because I don’t care. I absolutely, unabashedly loved The Force Awakens. Going into the film, I had high expectations (to say the least) both as a Star Wars fan and as a movie fan in general, and I wasn’t entirely positive it would live up to them – but J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Lawrence Kasdan, and the rest of the team at Disney and Lucasfilm not only managed to exceed my expectations, but also deliver new surprises that I didn’t even seen coming. Giving all of us Star Wars fans out there a new set of characters that we can root for and fall in love with, The Force Awakens was in my opinion, exactly the film that we needed it to be. Combining familiar elements from the original films with exciting new twists, and The Force Awakens has managed to not only be a loving homage to the previous films in the Star Wars franchise, but also a modern and refreshing take that is accessible to all generations. I didn’t have a better time in the theatre this year than I did seeing this film.
Oh man, I can talk about Room endlessly, and over the past few months since I saw the film – I have. You see, in a year that saw the return of beloved movie characters, worlds, and love stories that both made me smile and cry, nothing quite grabbed me like the mother and son connection shown in this film. Featuring two of the year’s best performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, Room tells the story of a girl who was kidnapped when she was a teenager and her five year old son, Jack, who was born inside of “room” – the small shed that she and Jack are being trapped inside by her captor.
Telling the story of their lives in and outside of Room, the tale told by director Lenny Abrahamson and screenwriter Emma Donohue is one of those transcendent tales that I believe will live on for decades to come. This is an extraordinary cinematic accomplishment that will make you think of your life, and the lives of others, in ways you never have before. In an overall eventful year for movies, Room is the film that holds the strongest place in my heart, and is something that I don’t think I will ever forget.
So that does it for 2015. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did, and make sure to come back in a few days to see a sneak peek at some of our most anticipated films in the new year. We’ll see you then!
Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.
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