By Nick Anstett
After 12 months and over 100 movies, 2015 has come to a close. It may have gotten off to a rocky start with such oddities and slogs as “Jupiter Ascending” and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but 2015 quickly evolved into a memorable year for film filled with far reaching space voyages, familial drama, spectacle, and emotion.
10. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
10 years after its last installment and over 30 since Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher starred in their now iconic roles, the return to a galaxy far, far away was destined to be a hit. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was one of the best films of last year. Co-writer and director JJ Abrams injected a welcome level of fidelity, respect, but also energy and humanity that creates a space opera that is bursting with both visual splendor and heart. It is buoyed by a standout ensemble cast of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, and many more.
9. “Ex Machina”
Tech giant Elon Musk has warned us that the development of artificial intelligence might be comparable to “summoning the demon.” No filmmaker has further shared this sentiment with more nuance and apprehension than Alex Garland in his unnerving science fiction thriller “Ex Machina.” Uncomfortably claustrophobic, unnerving from its start, and featuring outstanding performances from Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac, “Ex Machina” may just be one of the most genre films of the decade and the most haunting.
Playing out like a contemporary “Heart of Darkness,” Denis Villeneuve’s politically restless and tense exploration of the War on Drugs sticks to the viewer long after its conclusion. Roger Deakins’s cinematography and Johann Johannson’s eerie score highlight an experience that is captivating, but also suitably uncomfortable from its start. Stars Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro both deserved Oscar attention.
7. “The Martian”
Possibly the feel good blockbuster of the decade, “The Martian,” is a science fiction survival epic that is bursting with a genuine sense of optimism and faith in human spirit and ingenuity. It is director Ridley Scott’s best film in almost 30 years and one of the best performances of Matt Damon’s career. The result is something that is entirely memorable and uplifting.
6. “Inside Out”
Despite beginning the decade with a series of relative disappointments, Pixar rocketed back into its rightful space of delivering fun, creative, and thought-provoking animated entertainment for the whole family in “Inside Out.” Filled to the seams with original concepts and genuine emotion, writer and director Pete Docter’s adventure into human thought and growing up ranks among the celebrated animated studio’s best works.
5. “The Revenant”
While brutal and unflinchingly intense, “The Revenant” continues director Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu’s winning streak after last year’s “Birdman.” With cinematography that is unrivaled in its beauty and technical prowess, this frontier story of survival and revenge would have already been an unmissable film event, but Leonardo DiCaprio’s show-stopping and undeniably Oscar worthy performance shape “The Revenant” into one of the year’s best.
4. “The Big Short”
Who would have thought that the director of “Anchorman 2” would turn in one of the most enlightening but also disarmingly entertaining looks into the 2008 recession? That’s exactly what “The Big Short” is though, and the result is nothing short (pun intended) of spectacular. Co-writer and director Adam McKay knows how to send a message but also how to do so without losing track of his intended audience and in the process deliver laughs that are tinged with apprehension. It also boasts one of the strongest ensemble casts of the year with Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrel, and numerous other cameos stealing the spotlight.
It’s fitting for a film about journalism to feel as close to truth as drama can provide. Director Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” is an upsetting, but important enlightening examination into one of the most pervasive but also well-hidden cover ups in the history of one of the world’s oldest institutions. “Spotlight” is stirring in its dedication to spreading truth. The dramatic strength of its ensemble, led by Oscar nominees Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo, is not to be missed.
2. “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Even just hours after its release, director George Miller’s return to his 30 years dead “Mad Max” franchise was being hailed as an instant action classic, and it’s hard to argue. Miller’s impeccable direction and eye for the fine-line between absurd and practical turn this madcap chase film into a visual feast. It’s one of the most impressive directing, editing, and design achievements in recent film memory, and it carries a socially conscious mindsight that sets it way above its competition. There are quite simply no movie experiences that are remotely similar to “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and it may well become the film by which the year is remembered.
There are few movies that have ever elicited the visceral emotional response that “Room” does. Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of the bestselling novel is a unique exploration of the love between parent and child in the face of incredible adversity. Brie Larson is suitably receiving Oscar attention for what might be the year’s most harrowing and vulnerable performance, and her young co-star Jacob Tremblay is nothing short of a revelation. In a year whose best cinematic achievements celebrated the ability for human courage, love, and spirit to achieve in the face of danger or violence, few better exemplify this than “Room,” which bursts with genuine wonder with every frame.
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