2015, a year that saw Jurassic World come back into the spotlight and destroy box office records…only to be itself destroyed by the end of the year by the return of Star Wars back in full form after 32 years (if you don’t count the prequels…and I don’t think most do). We watched as the ground work was laid for a Civil War in the Marvel Universe and shed a tear to a furious farewell to Paul Walker. We learned about our feelings in the most wonderfully animated way, cheered as Katniss Everdeen led a revolution, and shuddered at the wordplay of a BDSM billionaire. We welcomed back James Bond as we will, seemingly, until the end of time and stared confused at the little yellow phenomenon that is the Minions. Some years have standout films but are mostly unremarkable…2015 is not that year. It’s hard to think of a year with so many landmark moments in film, 1985 with the peak of John Hughes and 80’s blood and bullet action? Maybe, but something about this year really seemed to hit a high note for any kind of audience member…to borrow a cliché, 2015 had something for everyone. So sit back and enjoy as the Punch Drunk Critics (other than Travis whose picks are here) each chime in to bring you their top 5 films of the year that was!
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Lenny Abrahamson already has a track record of deftly handling complicated and troubling emotional states, but it's Brie Larson who shines here. The display of her range as "Ma" is incredible, running the gamut from the horror of her circumstance, to the joy in her relationship with her son, to the anguish at the prospect of a life beyond the four walls that are all she has known for so long. Add to that a striking performance by the young Jacob Tremblay, and you have a movie that will not be soon forgotten.
Ryan Coogler came out swinging two years ago with Fruitvale Station, and now he's back for round two with the same lead, Michael B. Jordan. Put one of the most talented up-and-coming directors together with one of the most talented up-and-coming actors -- not to mention Sylvester Stallone's strongest acting work in years, if not decades -- and magic is bound to happen. This is a film that manages not only to be through-and-through a Rocky movie comparable with the best of the series, but at the same time one suffused with and unapologetic about its Blackness, even in ways I missed entirely until they began to circulate on social media.
This has been tagged repeatedly by critics as an "old-fashioned movie", which I think means it isn't packed with sex, violence, and swearing. But that hardly means it's bereft of conflict, as we follow a young Irish immigrant back and forth across the Atlantic in search of her true home. It's easy for a movie to show pain, but John Crowley gives us instead a deep, longing ache, tempered with a warmth and generosity that's rare to find in most films. And all of this centers on Saoirse Ronan, who gives us the only performance that can give Brie Larson a run for her money this year.
2: Ex Machina
After years and years of disappointment, this is the A.I. film that I have been waiting for. Alex Garland is easily the best contemporary science fiction screenwriter working today, and his first time directing is just as impressive. Cinematographer Rob Hardy turns the Norwegian landscape hotel into an ominous and even vaguely alien setting. But as lovely as this film looks, its discussion of the philosophical questions raised by artificial intelligence -- not to mention their transposition onto feminist modes of discourse -- makes it one of the smartest movies of the year.
I'll admit to being in the bag for Paolo Sorrentino and his regular cinematographer, Luca Bigazzi. They take the rectilinear precision that we've come to expect from Wes Anderson and Robert Yeoman, and they add great, sweeping, inhumanly graceful curves. Youth is every bit as gorgeous as Sorrentino's last feature, The Great Beauty, which rightfully took the Foreign Language Oscar two years ago. And, as in that film, Sorrentino shows subtle but profound depth in his writing. He again wrestles with our all-too-human failure to understand what is truly important until it's too late, this time focusing on all the perceived failures to which we cling so tightly; ones we'd be happier without, if we could just learn to let go.
4. Ex Machina
3. The Big Short
"The Big Short" is not going to be a movie that makes a lot of money; too many people will write it off before seeing it, thinking it depressing or opportunistic or superficial. It's none of those things. Instead, it's director Adam McKay doing what the American news media wouldn't: Breaking down the housing bubble, acknowledging the shortcomings of the government, analyzing how shit went so bad so quick, and putting the bankers and corporations on blast. The man who handled this material with a wink and a grin in "The Other Guys" goes full rage here, and this flawless cast - headlined by Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling - digs into the material with fangs bared. You'll laugh, sure, but you'll be more pissed off than you could ever imagine. And that's the entire point.
Sometimes quiet little movies can haunt you, and "Brooklyn" is one of those movies - what it lacks in melodrama it makes up for in emotional honesty. Watch Saoirse Ronan's face as she endures the journey from Ireland to America, as she struggles to do well at a job where she makes small talk with women who are more wealthy than she can handle, as she begins to fall in love with an Italian-American man who adores her, as she realizes her intelligence and how far it can get her in this country, and as she considers a return to what she once considered her home. Ronan can do so much with so little, and she'll break your heart constantly only to heal it again with a smile or a glance. As Ellis Lacey, the choices she has to make, the ways she can build her life, are simultaneously everyday stuff and once-in-a-lifetime material. "Brooklyn" sneaks its way into your soul.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
No one has "meh" feelings about "Mad Max: Fury Road." You were either a sexist bro who thought the entire movie was "too feminist" - because there are people on the Internet who really thought this, because people are stupid - or you were a rational, intelligent human being who saw this movie and realized that the fucking future was here, and the future was "Fury Road." Those car crashes, that oxygen mask, those shootouts in the desert, that moment when Charlize Theron as Furiosa balances her gun on Tom Hardy's Mad Max shoulder and nails the shot - this is masterful moviemaking. George Miller immerses us in a world where everything is possible, everything is insane, and everything is for an equality that is long due, and that's what makes "Fury Road" the best movie of the year.
Julian Lytle (Note: The Night's King has no particular order they all are FIRE)
1. Furious 7
Yes this movie makes my list and why? Because not only is this the film where we lost Paul Walker but also Justin Lin left. A lot of weight was on Wan in adding on the franchise to this point. This movie which brings together all the plotlines and bring us current to a post Tokyo Drift world had a lot to do. It did it with flying colors. This movie is the point where yes out family is a family of urban American superheroes. In something on the surface level is Fast and Furious versus the Transporter really kept in all the heart we now expect from these characters. We want Brian to make it out even though we know Paul Walker has passed on. We expect Dom and Hobbs to do amazing feats of strength just like that of Hulk and Thor. No other franchise gives me life like this series and it looks like it’s not close to stopping. I can watch this movie all day.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
This to me is one of the few films that shocked everyone caused a bunch of hype and lived up to it completely. A movie that when you explain it is just essentially a two-hour chase but once a person watches is set upon the world an ocean of think pieces about many things going in our society in what George Miller was saying or being interpreted in saying through the viewpoint of this new Mad Max. Clearly a lot people loved and some didn’t see the hype but for me nothing else this year have matched the majesty of Fury Road on screen.
I was sold on this idea from announcement. Taking the Rocky franchise and making Rocky Balboa into the mentor role is a stroke of genius. Spinning this from a kid of Rocky’s greatest Rival and having the rising Michael B. Jordan as this kid with all the likability that’s he’s has since we’ve first saw him as the young BMore dope boy Wallace. This whole Michael B. Jordan teaming up with Ryan Coogler is turning out to be something to watch. This movie was a perfect mix of reboot and sequel I’ve seen in a long time. It keeps the heart and soul of Rocky but makes it something new. When watching this movie hearing the Meek Mill blasting on the theater speakers I was just watching as Rocky became Mick and how I was dreaming up the next two movies.
Also Tessa Thompson is Bae.
So while this film is controversial in so many regards it’s great to me to see Spike in a return to form that we haven’t seen in a narrative since, for me, Bamboozled. His use of the play Lysistrata set in modern day Chicago to me is very smart as he uses this setting and play to comment on all the issues that have been in public discourse for the last two years. It starts with black gang violence and then goes all the way to the media, economic issues, gentrification, and gun violence. To be honest this film is more about Gun violence in America than any specific thing about “Race” and the crime in Chicago. I hope when people have a time to really look the film and unpack it that it gains a more positive legacy especially in the black community.
5. Ex Machina
This is by far the movie I had to teach people how to say the most in 2015. I was really surprised about this film because I knew nothing about it before seeing it. This film is one of those few smart ones about artificial intelligence I can really vibe with. I like how it deals with tech and women and objectification. Alicia Vikander came out of nowhere for me. I’ll be honest but she wasn’t an actor that stood out to me before this and she’s have a bomb year with this film and Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Danish Girl. Also Oscar Isaac’s dance scene is fire!!!
5. Room – Brie Larson has been giving great performances the last few years, and while I adored her in Short Term 12 (an underrated movie that still doesn’t get as much love as it deserves), Room is most certainly her most emotional achievement. It’s enough to be drawing her attention for Best Actress. Director Lenny Abrahamson knows just how to stay focused on the characters and how to steer through the rough waters of a film that deals with such difficult issues. Newcomer Jacob Tremblay will also break your heart every time.
4. Creed – Michael B. Jordan more than made up for his role in the disastrous Fantastic Four and proved once more that he is an actor you should be watching out for. Kudos to director Ryan Coogler for making a sequel that didn’t actually feel like a sequel and for making Rocky Balboa a mentor to Jordan’s Adonis Creed. The film’s defining scene happens during Jordan’s run through the streets of Philadelphia, motorcycles trailing him. I have never felt so excited about a scene in a long while. The fact that Creed tackles the issues of living up to a legacy while trying to pave your own way is a sentiment that anyone and everyone can appreciate.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road – The gates of Valhalla have never looked so good. The film is probably one of the most feminist ones you’ll see this year. And although Max’s name is in the title, this film is all about Furiosa (Charlize Theron), her ability to make greased skin look awesome, and her mission, to which Max (Tom Hardy, who bizarrely has a striking resemblance to Bane, whom he also played) is kind of just a tag-along. The movie is simple, and works even without having a shit ton of dialogue. It also has some of the best cinematography and action sequences you’ll see. Can Furiosa have a spin-off or something?
2. Ex Machina – Look, it’s a sci-fi movie that doesn’t try and sound smart, but actually is. Shocking! With all the science-y jargon out there, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is as refreshing as a cool breeze on a scorching day. It explores artificial intelligence and what it really means to be conscious in a thoughtful and intriguing manner. And… it gives us Oscar Isaac. He’s crazy and sinister, but so good at it.
1. Brooklyn –
I saw Brooklyn back in January at Sundance. It was a favorite immediately after my first watch and remained in my thoughts all year. It’s really a hard movie to forget, mostly because I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories and the fact that it’s told so beautifully makes it a hard act to follow. It’s gorgeously shot, grounded emotionally, and every single character is relatable in some way. Saoirse Ronan carries the movie beautifully and expresses all the ways in which the immigrant experience can be fulfilling and challenging without being borderline melodrama. Beautiful and touching, it pulled on my heartstrings and never quite let go.
5. The Man from UNCLE
A throwaway movie from late summer makes your Top 5 John? Really? Well, yes really. As you’ll see from the rest of my list and as you know if you’ve read anything I’ve written I treat these not as what was the most quality cinema of the year, but rather which movies gave me the most pure enjoyment. In that sense ‘UNCLE’ truly earns its place. A straight forward cold war spy action/comedy, this stylish remake from Guy Ritchie hits every nail on the head. From the subtle style clues that cement you in the 60’s to the Bond-esque action pieces this film is fun through and through. Credit for getting the film into my top 5 must go to the palpable chemistry shared by the films leads. Henry Cavil’s devil-may-care Napoleon Solo is a perfect counter balance to Armie Hammer’s strong, silent, and possibly psychotic but secretly tender KGB agent, Illya. The icing on the cake comes in the form of 2015’s breakout star Alicia Viklander’s Gaby. The three of them with Guy Ritchie’s direction produces something that by all accounts should have been forgettable but ends up remarkable leaving you wishing for a sequel to this 60’s television remake.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. Bridge of Spies
Tom “I can do no wrong” Hanks, I swear if a Cosby level scandal ever surfaces surrounding everyone’s celebrity Uncle it will crush what faith I have left in the good of this world. The Playtone power team of Spielberg and Hanks comes together once again to tell us the surprisingly riveting tale of Cold War negotiations. If that sounds boring to you it probably should, it’s literally a movie about a lawyer who defends a suspected Soviet spy and is then recruited by the US Government to negotiate a trade with the USSR. Yet somehow this dynamic duo pulls off one of the most satisfyingly tense films of the year.
1. Star Wars Ep. VII: The Force Awakens
Surprised? I didn’t think so. I’ve always been a prequel apologist. Yes they were not as good as they should have been but for a die hard Star Wars fan like myself the chance to see the height of the Republic and the Jedi in all their glory is something you will love regardless of the warts. Then comes episode 7 and you realize just how many warts those prequels had. Yes, JJ is starting to get the inevitable backlash of people complaining about how the film is too much like the original trilogy, yadda yadda yadda. That’s just proof that people will always complain. This movie is it. This is what we were waiting for. I can’t recall a single moment in the recent history of film where a director so precisely nailed something that had expectations of this level. Were their things that could be improved upon? Yes, but no movies perfect. Give me 10 minutes and I can deconstruct the Godfather or Citizen Kane. In the words of so many tweeters the night of the premier, ‘JJ Did It!’