by Adam Riske
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): Bone Tomahawk, Bridge of Spies, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, Turbo Kid, Unfriended
10. Mad Max: Fury Road – An ingenious, extraordinary epic with masterful filmmaking by George Miller and imaginative (mostly practical) set pieces and stunt work. It’s the action movie of the year in that it completely goes for broke with kinetic editing, wacky characters, vivid cinematography and a heart-thumping score. The memorable characters stuck with me, in particular how Charlize Theron’s Furiosa and Tom Hardy’s Max learn that it is in their mutual best interest to cooperate with one another. Refreshingly feminist as well, it’s a movie that suggests that women are maybe not only equal to men of action but possibly superior to them on the battlefield. Super exciting and a great time at the movies.
Inside Out - Despite liking some of them, I haven’t had a Pixar movie on my top 10 list since 2007’s Ratatouille. Inside Out is their biggest home run since then. It’s a spectacular and refreshing experience that ennobles animation in a way, imploring its peers to be dense and unique as well as humorous. It doesn’t hurt that the movie is genuinely touching for adults, acknowledging that emotions that once made us happy can, with age and circumstance, now make us equally melancholy. Enough can’t be said either of Michael Giacchino’s score, which ranks up there as one of my favorites of the year as well. Inside Out is a great movie full of ingenuity and creativity.
8. The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino’s dark, ballsy, operatic and exciting new movie is full of great moments and wonderful characters played beautifully by its ensemble cast. The thing I appreciate most about The Hateful Eight is what a fascinating departure it is from the writer-director’s previous work. His characters in the past have been seedy but many still had redeeming qualities and here he abandons all hope and goodwill. This is an angry movie, full of despair and raw feeling but also the joy of filmmaking. I don’t think it’s a coincidence Tarantino has chosen the wide clarity of 70mm for this movie; he wants us to see, in sharp focus, the widespread pervasiveness of casual racism in the DNA of America. It’s a smart and very perceptive movie about people so far-gone that their hate and despicableness is invisible to them.
6. Slow West – John Maclean’s Slow West is an amazingly good movie – a lonely and singular vision of a specific place, time and genre. It showed me things I haven’t seen in a Western before and it never compromises into being something conventional. The movie is full of memorable sequences and terrific performances, in particular by the great Michael Fassbender. This is such a beautifully sad, cynical and remorseless movie full of memorable sequences, especially a tragic stop at a general store. This is a movie that removes all romanticism from the great American myth of the cowboy and life on the trail. It’s tense, ripe with drama and surprisingly funny in sports in a gallows humor sort of way.
The Revenant – A suspenseful, unrelenting frontier survival thriller (with exquisite cinematography) that had me rapt with attention for its entire lengthy 2-1/2 hour runtime. The Revenant is a remarkable achievement from a sheer filmmaking perspective from writer-director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and a risky, dangerous film. It also features brilliant and brave performances from its excellent cast, led by Leonardo DiCaprio (in a punishing physical performance) and Tom Hardy (great here as the villain of the piece). It’s a rewarding experience to watch but also a grueling one. You feel like you’ve been through something after you’ve watched it. I honestly don’t know how they achieved some of the nightmarish sequences shown in this movie. This movie softens nothing. It blew my mind.
4. Creed – Great performances by Michael B. Jordan (who is especially impressive in the boxing sequences), Sylvester Stallone and Tessa Thompson highlight Creed, the best Rocky movie since the original. It’s everything a fan of the series could hope for and more. Creed is fascinating in the way it unfolds with one great scene after another thanks to the sure, confident work by writer-director Ryan Coogler, who does a terrific job of paying homage to the series’ foundation while still forging his own path. A romantic and courageous sports movie about likeable people I loved spending time with. I loved every single minute of Creed and can’t wait to see where the franchise goes next. This movie makes you feel great.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – A very good blockbuster that is secretly great. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is special for a number of reasons but especially how heartfelt it is from a character and filmmaking perspective. The new cast, led by the awesome Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver, is phenomenal and lively. J.J. Abrams went for a big target and succeeded completely in making a joyous, spirited, fun and beautiful looking action-adventure that celebrates everything we all originally loved about Star Wars. I’ve never used this word before, but this movie is resplendent. I can’t stop watching it. I could make an argument that this is the second best movie in the franchise after The Empire Strikes Back. A wonderful movie and the most entertaining experience I had in a theater in 2015. 60 portions!!!
2. The End of the Tour – A terrific movie from James Ponsoldt that delivers of the promise of his previous feature, The Spectacular Now. The End of the Tour is a movie about great conversation and offers no easy answers about the existential crisis that is being an unhappy male in your 30s. No movie this year affected me emotionally as deeply as The End of the Tour. It’s so humane and such a great experience (it’s as much an investigation of what makes someone brilliant as it’s anything else) with a fascinating script and a career-best performance from Jason Segel. This is a movie I could watch over and over again. It’s a movie that may not be perfect but that’s perfect for me.
Spotlight – My favorite movie of the year is the amazing and heartbreaking Spotlight. It allows us to spend time with a group of fiercely intelligent and passionate people (terrific performances from the best ensemble cast of the year led by Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton) working together to expose a great injustice on one of the largest stages possible. It’s a thoughtful and enraged movie that celebrates human and journalistic integrity and also works as a detective movie in the same way as 2007’s masterpiece Zodiac. I’ve been a fan of writer-director Tom McCarthy in the past but Spotlight is on a whole other level of greatness.
Here’s hoping that 2016 is another great year for movies.