2014 was a weird year for movies. There were like, five modern classics, and then everything else was just aight. Such is not the case with 2015. There was definitely more of a spectrum of quality this year. I don’t know which of these films will be remembered in a decade. Could be four of them. Could be all of them. Chances are, some movies that aren’t even on the list will stand the test of time. But these are my picks for the best movies of 2015, based on a mix of quality and how much I enjoyed them. First, some honorable mentions.The Peanuts Movie
The Duke of Burgundy
15. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION (dir. Christopher McQuarrie)
I’ve always been surprised by how resilient this franchise is. Not only is it still going strong after five movies, but the past two have been the best ones yet. Arguably the best spy movie franchise of the century, Mission: Impossible 5 follows Ethan Hunt on the run from the CIA, trying to track down a mysterious shadow organization called the Syndicate. Tom Cruise and the gang are as fresh as ever in this supremely satisfying action movie.
14. ANT-MAN (dir. Peyton Reed)
What’s great about Ant-Man is that before it came out, everyone was sure it would bomb. After original director Edgar Wright left the project, it seemed that most Marvel fans had sworn it off altogether. But Marvel outdid themselves again. Ant-Man is just as funny, fast-paced, and mind-blowing as any Wright fanboy could have hoped for, and it succeeded in being both a solid Marvel movie and a solid movie, where Marvel’s other project this year failed at both.
13. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (dir. Guy Ritchie)
It’s rare for any actor to have as good a year as Alicia Vikander did in 2015, but this chapter of her career is often overlooked. To be fair, I forgot she was in it. With Guy Ritchie doing all his Guy Ritchie stuff along with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer trying to out-act each other, she seems unimpressive in comparison, even though she delivered a solid performance. But yeah, it’s worth mentioning that Cavill and Hammer are divine as comedic foils Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, respectively.
12. STEVE JOBS (dir. Danny Boyle)
It seemed like we’d never get a good Steve Jobs movie, but by their powers combined, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin made it happen. Who knew a movie with only three scenes could be so exciting? The film uses three key announcements to illustrate the progression of Jobs’ relationships and life. While it leaves a few things out (Pixar, iPod, iPhone, cancer, etc.), and isn’t exactly true to life, it’s still a great movie with a lot of Sorkin’s signature snappy dialogue and some real touching moments.
11. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (dir. J.J. Abrams)
With this film, Disney proved exactly what they needed to prove: that they could make a great Star Wars movie. Borrowing elements from many of the franchise’s previous installments, The Force Awakens adeptly introduces a whole new cast of characters while tying them into the established universe. The film also features the best Harrison Ford performance in decades, the most original villain we’ve seen in a long time, the cutest movie couple of the year (Finn and Poe), and revolutionary special effects with just the right mix of practical and CG. Love it or hate it, it left everyone wondering what comes next.
10. DOPE (dir. Rick Famuyiwa)
Here it is: the only good teen movie of 2015. Featuring an exciting cast of up-and-comers (also, Forest Whitaker), the film follows a trio of black nerds who get caught up in organized crime while trying to apply to Harvard (as one does). It’s really funny and sweet, Shameik Moore and Kiersey Clemons are amazing, it’s just a really fun time.
9. THE HATEFUL EIGHT (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
How sick would it have been if this was in eighth place? Oh, well. Critics have said that this film is too slow, and by Tarantino standards, they’re right. But it gives the characters more room to breathe, and by the time the action ramps up in the last act of the film, it’s that much more rewarding because the tensions have been stewing for so long. I also like how, rather than simply presenting you a mystery to solve, it creates an unsettling atmosphere and the intrigue just unfolds around you. Sure, it’s slow, but only for the purpose of suspense.
8. TRAINWRECK (dir. Judd Apatow)
After Apatow’s NBC revenge campaign ended around 2009, he started making darker, more sentimental comedies. The results have been great, for the most part. But with the help of Amy Schumer, Apatow may have created his masterpiece with Trainwreck. It tells the story of a swinging single (played by Amy Schumer) and a charming doctor (Bill Hader) who learn how to have a real relationship, with a little help from Hader’s best friend, LeBron James (LeBron James). Not only is it a comedic goldmine, but it’s actually a really touching and thought-provoking film with some genuinely great performances, especially from Schumer, Colin Quinn, and Tilda Swinton.
7. THE BIG SHORT (dir. Adam McKay)
McKay has already established himself as a comedic visionary, but it turns out, he’s also a really good director. The Big Short tells the story of a bunch of rich people in 2005 who find out about the upcoming stock market crash and use it as an opportunity to get richer (but they feel kinda bad about it!). It’s perhaps the most energetic Wall Street movie you’ll ever see, and it also features the best ensemble cast of 2015, including wonderful performances from Steve Carrell and Christian Bale.
6. TANGERINE (dir. Sean Baker)
Two transgender sex workers navigate a web of drama in the streets of Hollywood in this fast-paced drama. I don’t throw around the phrase “Guy Ritchie-esque”, especially not in a positive context, but let me put it this way: this was a better Guy Ritchie movie than the actual Guy Ritchie movie that came out this year (Remember The Man from UNCLE? From before?). It embodies the beautiful ugliness that Ritchie’s films are known for. Its characters are tragically flawed but still endearing and relatable. You know they’re all terrible, but you want to see them all make it out OK. And believe it or not, most of them do. Tangerine is one of the grimiest, and one of the sweetest, films you’ll find this year.
5. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (dir. F. Gary Gray)
Perhaps the most controversial Oscar snub of 2015, Straight Outta Compton tells the story of rap legends N.W.A., or at least half of them (DJ Yella and MC Ren are essentially downgraded to non-speaking roles, while Arabian Prince isn’t even in the movie). It’s the best hip hop biopic of all time, and it set up what could be a promising cinematic universe.
4. THE MARTIAN (dir. Ridley Scott)
Matt Damon is lost on the planet Mars, and it’s up to the US government and Sexiest Man Alive Donald Glover to get him back. It’s one of the few times the Oscars’ token comedy nominee has a decent chance of winning Best Picture (it won’t, but that’s beside the point). It’s that rare balance of great comedy and great cinema that so few films achieve.
3. EX MACHINA (dir. Alex Garland)
Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander star in this mind-bending psychological thriller about what it means to be human. It’s so uniquely its execution: it’s an isolated, suspenseful sci-fi thriller that mostly consists of only three characters. It’s something brand new, and that’s important.
2. INSIDE OUT (dir. Pete Docter)
Pixar came back full force with this heartwarming tale of a little girl and the emotions she goes through as she moves to a new city. Or, more accurately, it’s about emotions and the little girl they go through as she moves to a new city. It’s great in all the ways a Pixar movie should be, and it has an important message about how it’s OK to be sad sometimes.
1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (dir. George Miller)
Was there ever any doubt? This live action Road Runner cartoon is one of the coolest movies of all time. It’s non-stop action for upwards of two hours, but it’s so visually stunning and emotionally captivating that it never feels like it’s dragging. It’s adrenaline in its rawest form. It’s practically flawless. But that’s not important. What really matters is that its flaws aren’t apparent. It’s so viscerally pleasing that it keeps a stranglehold on your attention for the full running time. It’s also got a pretty sick political message, something a lot of action movies don’t have the guts to include.
So, 2016. Here we go.