Top Ten Movies of 2015 — Staci Layne Wilson
By Staci Layne Wilson
When you see as many movies as I do a year – or even per week – it’s nearly impossible to make a Top Ten Movies list. I mean, how can you pit Inside Out against The Hateful 8? Is it fair to compare Amy to Carol? Can’t be done.
My criteria is not necessarily what’s “the best” overall but what’s stuck with me or made an impression in some significant way (even if it’s just a handful of scenes in an otherwise flawed film). Striking an emotional and/or artistic chord is rare, and I give props for that.
I have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s not on my top 10. I haven’t seen Carol (sadly, because Todd Haynes is one of my favorite directors), so I can’t put it on my top 10 though I’m assuming it deserves to be here.
Documentaries have been the biggest wowers for me this year – Making A Murderer, Soaked in Bleach, Going Clear and The Wolfpack are all films I’ve been evangelistic about – but this list is all about the narratives. (No made for TV movies, either.)
So, without further ado:
Top Ten Movies of 2015 by Staci Layne Wilson
10. The Walk
The true story of high-wire hotshot Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who performed the daring feat of walking between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, on the morning of August 7, 1974 – without a net or safety measures of any kind. While there is some of the Robert Zemeckis trademark schmaltz, JGL’s charm and believability trumps all. And yes – the death-defying payoff scene is truly breathtaking.
9. What We Do in the Shadows
Vampire flatmates quarrel over dirty dishes, discuss fashion throughout the ages, go clubbing, and of course gnash necks in this wickedly funny mockumentary from the guys who brought us Flight of the Conchords. This clever and er, biting, mockumentary infuses fresh blood into a tired genre.
8. Mad Max: Fury Road
When the warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads a dictator’s five wives in a daring escape, she forges an alliance with fugitive Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy). The film’s total running time is mostly one big high-speed chase scene through the brutal outback – but what a chase scene it is! Smart move: bringing back George Miller, the director of the original Mad Max. Read my full review here.
7. Love & Mercy
In the late 1960s, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) stopped touring, produced the seminal album Pet Sounds, and had a major nervous breakdown. By the 1980s, Brian (John Cusack), found himself a prisoner, trapped under the sway of a controlling therapist (Paul Giamatti), but thanks to the love and mercy of his future wife Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), he finds himself and reclaims his life. Brilliantly acted, beautifully shot and intriguingly edited, this is one of the better biopics in recent years.
6. 99 Homes
Based on a true story. A desperate, destitute construction worker (Andrew Garfield) reluctantly accepts a job with the ruthless real-estate broker (Michael Shannon) who evicted him and his family from their home. Little by little, he regains his footing and tries to avoid becoming the person he hates. Michael Shannon is always stellar – but Andrew Garfield holds his own, making for a sympathetic protagonist, even when he has to compromise his principals. 99 Homes is one of those movies that sticks with you long after the end-credits roll.
5. Ex Machina
Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a programmer who toils as a worker bee for the world’s biggest and best search engine, owned by the reclusive, brilliant Nathan (Oscar Isaac). When Caleb is selected to spend a week at the eccentric gazillionaire’s isolated retreat with the man himself, Caleb is honored and delighted… but he quickly learns that it’s also a research facility and this is no paid vacation: Caleb has been selected to try the Turing Test on Ava (Alicia Vikander), an uncanny android created by Nathan. Ava is beautiful and intelligent, but she’s not real… or is she? Ex Machina is what I call an “existential horror movie.” It feels as visceral as anything created by the Crichtons, Spielbergs, and Scotts of an era gone by, but it’s got a very contemporary, current, and forward-thinking propulsion to it.
From existential horror to existential porn. Yes, Gaspar Noe’s Love is controversial because it’s X-rated and in 3D no less, but it’s so much more than that. Noe is, along with Lars Von Trier, Jean-Marc Vallée and Nicolas Winding Refn, one of the most exciting filmmakers alive. In Love, Murphy (Karl Glusman) is an American living in Paris who enters a supremely sexually and emotionally charged relationship with unstable Electra (Aomi Muyock). Unaware of the seismic effect it will have on their relationship, they invite their pretty neighbor (Klara Kristin) into their bed… what unfolds is unreal in its reality. As always, Noe’s visual filmmaking style is stunning.
3. Straight Outta Compton
In 1988, a groundbreaking group revolutionized music and pop culture, changing and influencing hip-hop forever. N.W.A’s first album stirred controversy with its brutally honest depiction of life in the hoods of L.A., and stirred up trouble within its ranks. With guidance from veteran manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), band members Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) navigate their way through the industry, fame, fortune and finally settle into making history. Straight Outta Compton is one of those rare biopics that covers a lot of ground and follows tons of players without ever losing the thread of the story or relegating any of its characters to cardboard cutout status.
2. The Revenant
While collecting pelts for pay and trying to outwit angry Indians in the wildest of wildernesses, frontiersman Hugh Glass’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) days go from bad to worse when he sustains horrific injuries from a brutal bear attack. When his team is forced to move on, and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, in perhaps the best performance of his career – or at least the most different) betrays and abandons him, Glass channels his inner superhuman. Crawling, clawing, braving rapids and danger at every turn, he treks the wintry wasteland to track down Fitzgerald and wreak his vengeance. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has forsaken the B’s (Babel, Biutiful, and Birdman) and the (R)esult is remarkable. This is by far the best Western of the year (sorry, lovers of The Hateful 8 and Bone Tomahawk).
In 1947, successful screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and other filmmaking figures got blacklisted for their political beliefs. The story of how they redeemed themselves – particularly the tenacious and talented Trumbo – is nothing short of Hollywood magic, for real. Cranston once again shows his skill and range, while Helen Mirren practically steals the show as Hedda Hopper. I love stories about writers, real people, and Old Hollywood, so Trumbo is a triple-whammy for me. Read my Trumbo Fashion Fling Report here.
Brief Thoughts on Random Movies
Beasts of No Nation – Way too long.
Bone Tomahawk – Way too long (too).
Concussion – Will Smith makes this worth watching (the PBS Frontline special is a lot better).
Cooties – One of the better zom-coms to come out in recent times.
Creed – Great comeback for Rocky.
Crimson Peak – Guillermo Del Toro’s loving tribute to 1940s gothic cinema.
Furious 7 – Coolest car chases of the year!
Goodnight Mommy – Creepy, slow burn psychological horror at its best.
The Hateful 8 – A chamber piece. It’s Agatha Christie with the N-word; Clue with shotguns.
Inside Out – Good for kids, but it didn’t grab me.
It Follows – I’m not one of the fervent fans of this little indie that could.
Joy – David O. Russell and his team do it again: very entertaining.
Room – Interesting take on a sad story.
Sicario – Takes forever to pick up, but redeems itself in the second half.
Spotlight – Great dialogue and performances, but has the static feel of a stage play.
Spy – Not my thing.
Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens – There are Star Wars people, and there are Star Trek people. I am a Star Trek person.
Steve Jobs – Another one with great dialogue and performances, but has the static feel of a stage play. I expected much more from Danny Boyle.
The Big Short – I really enjoyed it, and I will see it again, but it’s this year’s Wolf of Wall Street, lite.
The Danish Girl – Eddie Redmayne simpers about, limp wristed. But, the true story is interesting and compelling, so hopefully the curious will be pushed to learn more.
The Duke of Burgundy – Stunning in its beauty and audacity.
The Martian – Good, but not as good as the book.
Trainwreck – I can see why people like it, but I was underwhelmed.
True Story – Again: Good, but not as good as the book.
(I have seen dozens and dozens more than this, but nothing worth mentioning.)
Bridge of Spies
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
As always, get tickets and times for films that are still in theaters at Fandango.com.
Top Ten Movies of 2015 — Staci Layne Wilson