Here is a list of what I consider to be the ten best movies of 2015. There are many lists just like this one, but this one is mine. Many other people will also tell you that it was hard to keep it down to just 10 movies which a) is true and b) is easily remedied by reminding myself that adding more movies to this list will take longer to write and the sooner I’m done with this list, the quicker my holiday vacation can start. So, 10 it is!
You will not agree with this list because you are made up of different genetic tissue than I am, which means we most likely have different tastes. Hopefully, someday, we will be able to settle our differences and come to some sort of mutual agreement. But, until then, all we can do is argue and dream. So, here’s my list (if any blurbs sound familiar, a few were used for Uproxx’s Best 20 Movies list because it’s impossible to rewrite blubs for the same movie. If you are upset by this, you can send a request for a refund to congress).
Anyway: here is my list!
10. The Martian
Matt Damon is trapped on a desolate death planet with little chance of surviving, and the tone is surprisingly uplifting and funny. Gosh, this movie seems like it came out five years ago for some reason – probably because it was the first of the big fall movies – but this is one of those movies you just walk out of it in a great mood because a) it’s well crafted and b) it’s fun – that not the easiest combination to pull off. Remember, the last time Ridley Scott directed a movie set on another planet, we got the much more dour Prometheus.
9. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Bel Powley plays Minnie, a 15-year-old girl living in 1970s San Francisco in Marielle Heller’s overlooked adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical graphic novel. The story centers on Minnie’s sexual awakening and the affair she’s having with her mom’s much older boyfriend, Monroe (played by Alexander Skarsgård in a way that probably should have been creepier than it is). This is a movie that will eventually find its audience (an R-rated movie about a 15-year-girl isn’t the easiest sell in 2015), but at least we can say we knew this movie was special the year it came out.
The best thing about Room isn’t that Joy (Brie Larson) and her son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), escape “room” after seven years in captivity. This happens a lot earlier in the film — directed by Lenny Abrahamson working from a script and novel by Emma Donoghue — than you’d expect and is revealed in the trailer. It’s that the film is more about the repercussions of what it’s like to return to the real world after such an ordeal. For seven years, that room was their real world. Room explores the notion that it’s not always that easy just to be rescued.
7. The Hateful Eight
If The Hateful Eight was made by anyone who didn’t have the talent of Quentin Tarantino, it could easily have turned into a boisterous, macabre sideshow of violence and expletives. Sure, that’s all still there, but the underlying chess game between these strangers and trying to decipher what everyone’s true motives are is what makes The Hateful Eight work so well. At three hours, blood and guts is only going to be interesting for so long (if it is at all), but the tension before the blood and guts is what really drives this film.
6. The Big Short
A movie like The Big Short needed Adam McKay. Let’s face it: The almost complete destruction of the American economy just isn’t that exciting of a story. The closest we’ve come to economic doom in our lifetime wound up being boring. Serves us right, I guess. But having a director like McKay turn the housing collapse – and all of its dry and confusing intricacies included… synthetic CDOs! – into something that is often funny, often shocking, and always infuriating is remarkable. McKay makes our demise into something that resembles a heist movie. He embraces the dry subject matter and finds humor within. This is a very meta film: It knows this is a boring subject matter. But McKay finds a meta, breaking-the-fourth-wall tactic to keep the film moving. One of the most dramatic moments of the film is a freeze frame on Steve Carell’s face as Guns N’ Roses blares. McKay pulls out every trick he has to make sure you finally understand who, exactly, screwed us all over. (And who is still screwing us all over.)
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are superb in this story about love during a time when the one thing both their characters wants — to be together — seems impossible. The best choice Todd Haynes makes is to downplay the verboten nature of the relationship between Carol (Blanchett) and Therese (Mara) – instead, the movie focuses on them. Kyle Chandler (who is great and has been lost a little behind the performances of Blanchett and Mara) plays Carol’s estranged husband and his confusion and pain is palpable. These, the film makes clear, are the kind of emotions that lead people to do mean things. Carol is not a movie about two women in love, it’s a movie about following one’s own heart, despite the consequences.
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I’ve now seen The Force Awakens twice. (And I can confirm that this will not be the last time I see The Force Awakens.) It’s strange, but it plays a lot better a second time. (Even after I really liked it the first time.) All the little nitpicks I had about the film the first time just didn’t seem as important anymore. Instead, this movie just moves along at light speed and is insanely rewatchable. (I’ve spoken to a few people who have seen it more than once and this seems to be a consistent occurrence.) A movie like this is never going to make everyone happy, but it’s made a lot of people happy and it’s just so great that Star Wars is actually fun again. I’ve really missed fun Star Wars.
It’s amazing the tricks your brain can play on you while watching Anomalisa. Written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson, there are times during the film when a viewer might completely forget he or she is watching an animated film – then a puppet will remove its face (or something). Which, at the same time, briefly snaps the film into a bizarre, almost psychedelic footnote while also snapping the viewer back into reality in a, “Oh, yeah, these aren’t real humans,” kind of way. Anomalisa is weird and touching and impossible to forget and includes the best cover version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” After a long seven-year absence, it’s very wonderful to have a Charlie Kaufman movie back in our lives. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take this long ever again.
Who knew? Who knew a movie that is essentially Rocky VII could find so much new life, while still adhering to the tried-and-true Rocky formula? It’s a good formula! Remember when Coke changed its formula? There’s no need to change a formula just because people are used to it. Good formulas are hard to come by! Chances are, if you mess around with it too much, your new formula will be worse. The key, which director Ryan Coogler pulls off, is to find that nice sweet spot between tweaking and reinventing. And Michael B. Jordan should be getting the same (deserved) accolades that Sylvester Stallone has received so far. (And it’s impossible not to cheer when that musical cue finally kicks in.)
I know, I know, what an outlandish number one: the movie that is, right now the favorite to win Best Picture. But I recently watched this a second time and it’s so great. This is one of those movies that, the first time you see it, you just know you’ve seen something special. It’s always a weird thing to compare a new movie to an established “classic,” but the comparisons to All The President’s Men is an apt one: Spotlight just pops off the screen, which is remarkable considering how low-key and drab the whole affair really is. Which, yes, captures the life of working at a newspaper pretty accurately. In other words: No fancy tricks are needed to get the points across. There’s one scene in which Mark Ruffalo’s character raises his voice in defiance. Usually in movies like this, we will see a lot of dramatic yelling. In Spotlight, less is more. Thomas McCarthy and Josh Singer’s screenplay is great, the performances are great, McCarthy’s direction is great – all with an understated tone appropriate for a story as serious as one about the abuse of children within the Catholic Church, and the Boston Globe team that uncovered just how widespread the abuse really was.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.