Lisa Johnson Mandell's Lucky 13 Best Movies of 2015
By Lisa Johnson Mandell
There were so many great movies out this year, I had a hard time limiting my favorites to a Top 10, so I decided to go with a Lucky 13. Going straight to the heart of the matter, here are what are, in my opinion, the best movies of 2015, in descending order:
13. Brooklyn — The tender story of an Irish immigrant, starring the lovely Saoirse Ronan in what is sure to be an Oscar nominated role. This quiet and elegant film about a young woman’s choices between homes old and new will stay with you for some time — in a very good way.
12. Love & Mercy: — The riveting Brian Wilson bio pic exploring the creative genius behind the Beach Boys will likely garner Oscar nods for Paul Dano and Elizabeth Banks in their supporting roles as the young Brian Wilson and the woman who later in life saves him. But John Cusack as the older Brian Wilson and Paul Giamatti as the shrink/manager who almost ruined him shine as well.
11. Carol — This is Todd Haynes’ gorgeous and moving tale of forbidden love in the ’50’s, starring Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett, and a surprisingly good Kyle Chandler as the cuckolded husband. There is some dispute about who should be nominated for Best Actress — Mara or Blanchett, because they’re both outstanding in major roles. Hopefully they won’t cancel each other out.
10. Concussion — Will Smith plays the brilliant Doctor Bennet Omalu, who discovered CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in football players, and the uphill battle he faced in bringing the information to the public. His conflict with the NFL is fascinating. I’m hoping to see Smith get an Oscar nomination for his work, but it’s going to be close.
9. Straight Outta Compton — This moving story about the rise and fall of the group NWA transcends race, focusing on freedom of speech and American opportunity and ingenuity. It’s very timely, and takes a rocky road that at times is difficult to watch, but ultimately edifies and uplifts. You’ll marvel at the grit, heart and audacity of this film.
8. Room — In all honesty I was concerned about seeing this movie, because I was feared the subject matter, a young boy and his mother held prisoner in a small room, seemed so dark disturbing and claustrophobic. But Brie Larson, as Ma, and Jacob Tremblay, as five-year-old Jack, plus flawless direction by Lenny Abrahamson, lift this film to exuberant heights. The worlds both within and without Room quite astounding to watch.
7. Spotlight — It’s hard to distinguish whether I like this film because of the important subject matter, the riveting story, or the stellar performances by favorite actors like Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, but does it really matter? This excellent movie about a crack team of Boston Globe reporters who broke the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal will go down in history as one of the greatest journalism movies of all time.
6. The Martian — It’s not easy to make a film from a beloved bestseller that pleases readers and movie goers alike, but Ridley Scott has pulled it off. Of course there are necessary cinematic liberties taken with the book, but I don’t think they detract from the original adventure. And Matt Damon, who stars as an astronaut stranded alone on Mars, was absolute perfect casting. Look for him to be a major Oscar contender for his excellent performance.
5. The Revenant — Combine two cinematic greats like Leonardo DiCaprio and director Alejandro González Iñárritu together in subzero temperatures and natural lighting, than throw in the most grueling bear attack ever filmed, and you have one stunning movie. It’s grueling, but worth it. This one just might get Leo his Well deserved Oscar — finally!
4. Steve Jobs — Speaking of Oscar-worthy performances, Michael Fassbender takes absolute control in the title role, and Kate Winslet is outstanding as well, as Jobs’ marketing expert/conscience. Aaron Sorkin has written one of the smartest scripts ever, and Danny Boyle’s directing is sublime and original. Such a shame it totally bombed at the box office–it deserved to do better.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road — A brilliantly fresh, breathtaking and bombastic chase through the dessert. Kudos to director George Miller for reimagining his original Mad Max concept in such an amazing way, in his late 60’s! Charlize Theron is a slam dunk nomination for best supporting actress. This is one of the few movies I enjoy watching over and over again.
2. The Big Short — Who knew the burst of the housing bubble could be so entertaining? This fab ensemble cast, including Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo, Finn Wittrock, Max Greenfield and so many more, will probably win the Screen Actors Guild’s (SAG) highest honor. The cast will certainly get my vote for the Critics Choice Award. We’ve all seen that director Adam McKay can do funny, now we know that he can do cutting edge smart as well.
1. Star Wars: Episode Seven: The Force Awakens — I unapologetically and enthusiastically climb aboard the Star Wars interstellar band wagon. The film has it all, and is such a treat for the whole family, it’s why we go to the movies. It revives my faith in Hollywood’s ability to just get over itself, have fun and present great entertainment. Smashing previous box-office records on an almost daily basis, if you only see one movie this year, Star Wars: Episode Seven: The Force Awakens should be it.
PS: After composing this, I realized I’d left out Trumbo! Rather than rewriting the entire piece and deleting some worthy film, let me just say that it would come somewhere in the middle of the the list, and would now be part of the Fabulous 14. The film starring Bryan Cranston as the talented screenwriter who was blacklisted and sent to prison for speaking out about his political leanings (not America’s finest hour), is a real treat, and an important message for these confusing times.
As always, if you’d like to see any of these stellar films, you can catch most of them at a theater near you right about now. Check locations, times and tickets at Fandango.com.
Lisa Johnson Mandell’s Lucky 13 Best Movies of 2015