Friday, January 15, 2016

My Top Ten Movies of 2015

For me, curating a Top 10 Movie list is all about determining re-watchability. Sure, other movies this year may have been 'technically' better (lookin' at you, The Revenant), but more likely than not, you're gonna catch me watching these ten favorites a decade from now over any other films released this past year. And that's all that really matters in the end. The ones that stick with you, whether because they're smart, or pretty to look at, or both—the movies you can't help but obnoxiously force friends or dates or co-workers to watch. The ones you'll actually want to have in your collection because they make you feel good. That is what the following movies are to me.

It's hard to ignore a recurring theme in my top movies this year: female-led ones. Strong characters played by actresses I adore, who pretty much stole the show. An interesting year for movies, to say the least, so without further ado, here are my Top Ten Movies of 2015...


Strongest second act in cinema this year, no question. While the final act slowed to an eerie crawl, the intensity that Ex Machina and its spectacular cast build up over the course of two hours is enough to get a strangle-hold on you and not let go. The cast is small, the quarters are even smaller, and it's unsettling to the point that it'll make you question all of humanity.

Alicia Vikander has had "Jessica Chastain-level success" this year, debuting in two movies up for awards consideration (nominated for The Danish Girl), and several that, well... aren't. But dammit if she weren't the best part of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., amirite? Ava the Robot may well become an iconic A.I. character, and no one is better suited to embody the terrifying prospect of the "sexy robot." This one gets better and better with each viewing.


At least one romantic period piece based on a classic novel comes out every year, but it's rare for one to deliver melodrama/sexual tension gold. Having watched the 1967 adaptation of this Thomas Hardy novel only just this year—and hating it—to say I was delighted by Carey Mulligan's take on the character and the entire execution is an understatement. It's eloquent, it's intelligent, and it's an all-around gorgeous movie. And Matthias Schoenaerts has totally stolen my heart, bringing Mr. Darcy/Col. Brandon-esque brooding to this role and giving me all those delightful swoon-y feelings. When a movie makes me feel that way, I hold onto it forever.


Speaking of eloquent! Amy Schumer is a hero among women—and men, for that matter. She's brave the way we all want to be brave, and insecure the way that we're all insecure. For once, Judd Apatow directed a movie that he can't claim credit for; all of that goes to Schumer, and well-deserved. In a year when we're confusing Joy and The Martian for comedies (seriously, I don't... whatever), it's no wonder this has risen above the rest for me. It elicited genuine, belly-shaking laughter, and all from the most unexpected sources. Bill Hader having the least number of laugh-lines is a testament to how Schumer so successfully spread the comedy-love around. John Cena is unforgettable ("I know what I do to assholes? I lick 'em!") and LeBron James proved that he has the comedic timing of Tig Notaro.

Don't even get me started on Colin Quinn, Mike Birbiglia, future Oscar winner Brie Larson??!! Get the f*ck out of here, this movie had it all.


If I hadn't seen a single movie this year, and based this list solely on anticipation and all the moving pieces—Sorkin script, Danny Boyle direction—this would without a doubt be at #1. The most inventive biopic I've ever seen, it's afraid of nothing. It doesn't care that it makes you love and side with a total, misogynist asshole. It doesn't care that, in a flurry of dialogue and walk-and-talks, you barely know where you are from one moment to another. It doesn't care that you want the blanks filled in. IT DOESN'T CARE. Because it believes that you'll get it, that you'll follow along, and love it all the more. And it was right.

This is no Social Network (I wasn't writing my blog in 2010, but that was my favorite movie that year), but it didn't have to be. Sorkin's script is genius work, reminiscent of Season 2 "The West Wing" days when every scene made the audience smarter. And no supporting cast as offered more literal support to a film's lead before. Brava.


Who saw this one coming? Will Ferrell's favorite comedy film scribe, Adam McKay, wrote and directed a movie about the mortgage crisis, and it's better than anything you could imagine. McKay may have adapted this from an already humorous book by Michael Lewis, but he still constructs a movie that can actually make sense of this financial disaster. McKay panders and coddles us in our stupidity about such things, and we!

A true ensemble with no clear lead, it's still Steve Carrell who stands out among the Brad Pitts and Christian Bales and Ryan Goslings. Carrell's best role to date, he just gets it. But he's not the only one. Everybody has their moment, even the supporting-supporting cast. And yes, that picture of Margot Robbie above is a direct shot from the movie. It's the most incredible, random moment of the year.


I predicted this would make an appearance on my Top list with my butt still stuck in that theater seat, mid-movie, and I'm so happy that most of the films this year couldn't surpass it. Nearly all of this love can be attributed to star Bel Powley who owns the role of 15-year-old Minnie experiencing a sexual and emotional awakening. But the environment that writer/director Marielle Heller builds around her doesn't hurt. The steady development of confidence is a challenging concept to convey, but Powley does it with ease. She's a caricature of no one, and I fell madly in love with her. Teenage Me could have really used this movie at that age—it acknowledges stigmas about sex, about insatiability and satisfying urges without shame, and Minnie's self-discovery is cathartic.

And besides all that, it's fun. Sometimes we all need a little quirky fun.


You wouldn't expect a film this traumatic to be so full of magic. But it's that combination that makes it so watchable. Jacob Tremblay as 5-year-old Jack narrates the film, watching the life he and his mother have together in the small but happy Room. Room is home, and Room is safety. To him, but not to his mom. To her, it's a prison, but he doesn't know this. Watching him not know it brings us happiness, because in this strange way, he couldn't be happier. It's when he begins to learn the truth, that's when it hits us all hard. But director Lenny Abrahamson never lets the terror or intensity dwell too long. It keeps moving as quickly as Jack learns about the world outside of Room.

I'm blown away by the performances in this movie, Larson's most of all. She will win an Academy Award this year—who else could they possibly honor? This role is soul-crushing, she destroyed me. And Jacob Tremblay built me back up, he was so full of wonder and curiosity. That moment when he meets a dog, a real dog!, for the first time... one sec, I need to go get tissues...


This comedy about a group of people stuck in the cesspool of life was at my #1 spot for over half the year. Its slip to #3 is recent, a result of re-watching my top 5 and coming to terms with the good and the bad of it all. But this one is stuck in me, the most familiar of these films in many ways. Maybe it's because my office is on Santa Monica Blvd and I've picked up food at Crown of India on more than one occasion, walking down that expansive street, encountering people from every walk of life. Maybe it's because every one of the people in this film exists, this very moment, and they're hanging around on the corner off Fairfax. None of this is a life I know, but it's a life I recognize, usually in a blur from the safety of my car as I fly down East Beverly Blvd. There are moments where this is no longer a movie, it's a documentary. That's how difficult it is to distinguish story from reality here. Shooting guerrilla-style with an iPhone 5s and mini, attachable Steady-cam only adds to the mythos that is the making of this film.

The best part? The music. Orchestral that slam-cuts into dub-step with perfectly timed edits makes my soul giddy with glee. Nothing could compliment the star actresses more, Mya Taylor and Kitana Rodriguez, who were discovered at the LGBT Center in LA. They brought their everything into this movie, and managed to make light of these characters' lives without ever trivializing or mocking them. There is more that is special about this movie than any other on this list.


The only movie this year that I watched more than twice. In fact, I watched it five times, and that during a year when I was trying (and failing) to watch 365 movies, one time each! George Miller may indeed win an Academy Award for directing, a sentence that no single human being on the planet had ever muttered before Fury Road came out. But he surprised us all with his vision of a post-apocalyptic wasteland that glittered with chrome and dripped with grease. And you want to know the most surprising thing of all? The plot was actually good, and so was the acting! Charlize Theron became everyone's new hero as Imperator Furiosa, the one-armed warrior desperate to do right by her gender. The iconic titular character, Max, may have been an afterthought, but he was certainly a bad-ass one.

There's nothing that you see on screen that isn't a technical marvel. The palette of colors, it's infused in everything. It GLOWS. All of that for a glorified car chase? Yes, please. A movie thisclose to snagging my #1 spot. But its greatness didn't quite surprise me as much as this next film's did...


Not a single movie this year made my mouth drop in awe like this one. Perhaps that's because it was so unexpected. My #2 certainly brought the wow-factor, but Meru stunned me into silence. Never before have I so frequently turned to stare at the person I was with, if only to confirm that they'd just seen what I'd seen. This is an impossible documentary, one that could only—in many ways—be chalked up to goddamn luck. Interviews and prep videos interspersed with shots of this magnificent, terrifying climb, all shot by master climbers Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk. The risks that were taken to get some of these shots... You think shooting The Revenant was hard??? Watch this movie, then you'll understand what "hard" really means.

Films about sport, sport of any kind, are primed to capture my love and attention. It's a genre I can't help but adore. Yet that adoration has never hit me as quickly as it did with Meru. There are dramatic revelations, poignant interviews, and palpable fears, near deaths (no seriously, how did those guys not die?), and at its core, it's still just a love letter to mountain climbing. A search for that epic thrill that can only come when you've succeeded and reached the pinnacle. And that's what this film is: thrilling. My favorite, hands down, of 2015.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

There you have it, my top 10 of the year! Now it's your turn... what movies did you enjoy most in 2015?

(check out my Top Ten Movies of 2014)

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