Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Top 10 Best Movies of 2015

Time to put 2015 to rest in the best way possible.

I feel like this is a list that really needs no introduction. In a year of monumentally fantastic movies, this was a list that everyone knew was going to happen, but at the same time, what's fun about making a best list this year was that because there were so many good movies that came out in 2015 that every list will look different from each other. No two lists will be the same, and that makes me even more excited to get right to the point and just start talking about my favorite movies of the year.

As I sat down to rank these movies though, I had to think extremely hard about what actually constituted the word "best". What does it mean to be "the best"? Does it mean that it's something that everyone can agree on? Is it a movie that has the best acting, the best directing, and the best cinematography? Is it a movie that personally resonated with a person? If we're talking about what it means to be "the best", I feel like I need to come out and say what I'm defining as "the best".

Being the best means that its a movie that I personally loved. It's those movies that I can sit down time and time again and get a constant sense of enjoyment out of it. It may not be the most technically proficient movie, and it may not be a movie that gets nominated for Best Picture, but they're movies that I can return to constantly and feel the exact same way about it as I did the first time I saw it. Now it may be that some of these movies are acted phenomenally while others are just style over substance, but they're the movies that stuck out to me more than any other movie and, misshapen or not, I can't resist loving them and calling them the best movies of 2015. So, with all of that said and my qualifiers in place, let's kick this list off right.

HM: American Ultra
I am dead certain that no one expected this to be on my list in any way, shape, or form, but that's the thing about American Ultra; it's an incredibly flawed movie, but the parts are better than the sum. I had a blast watching Jesse Eisenberg kill people as a stoner assassin, I thought that Kristen Stewart actually proved that she could act, and the action was solid and entertaining. It certainly didn't blow my world, but it was an enjoyable popcorn flick in every sense of the word.

I was debating between giving this spot to The Martian or Kingsman, but at the end of the day, you know that both of those two movies are good. Why do you need me to confirm your own feelings about them. Instead, I wanted to spotlight the movie that no one heard about in the vain attempt to try and get you to see a movie that didn't really do all that well at the box office. Again, it's a flawed movie, but I had to respect it sheerly out of the energy that it brought with it.

But yeah, it's an honorable mention, so I could play fast and loose with it no matter what.

#10: Spectre
You know it was a good year for movies when James Bond just barely scrapes it onto the Top 10. I'm a diehard Bond fan, and I was eagerly anticipating the return of a more classic James Bond flick. Spectre provided exactly what I was looking for in nearly every regard. It had a solid Bond villain, a great henchman, a killer opening, and a fantastic opening theme song done by Sam Smith. After the fantastic Skyfall, it was always going to be hard to give a solid followup to it, and while there was no way that Sam Mendes could have surpassed his previous film, he did a bang up job with this one.

Spectre was the breath of fresh air that the Bond series needed. It combined the Craig years' continuity and darker tone with a more classic Bond style, making it feel old, but new. I saw this movie in England the day of its release, and the movie lived up to the hype that I had for it. Yeah I may be biased and I certain that Kingsman has more fans and is a throwback to the Timothy Dalton Bond years, but Spectre was a throw back to the Connery years, and I always prefer my Bonds with more seriousness and gravitas than complete lightheartedness.

#9: Cinderella
I did not expect to like this movie as much as I did. Hell, I didn't even think of Cinderella until I started to make this list. But the more I sat and thought about it, the more that I realized that this movie was just a huge amount of fun and looked like a classic fairytale.

Kenneth Branagh directed this movie and it certainly shows. Every set looks opulent and magnificent and you feel like you're actually at this royal ball. Cinderella's dress looks outstanding, and he even made several adjustments to the Disney version that I loved. I loved that he severely reduced the roles of the mice and made the focus squarely on the human characters as well as giving Cinderella a more detailed backstory. While Maleficent's backstory betrayed her character and made no sense given her previous incarnations, this Cinderella's past made sense. It was tragic to slowly watch her become the maid of the house, yet we learned enough backstory about the Lady Tremaine to actually have sympathy for it and make it feel justified. Plus the Prince actually has a character now! Think of how crazy that is!

I'm not going to scream from the rooftops that this movie completely changed my life and made me look at the Cinderella story any differently, but there was enough in this movie that was good to make me look back fondly on it. Even better, it was a movie that I still think was one of the most drop dead gorgeous movies of the year, and that's saying a lot.

#8: Unfriended
I'm expecting to get a lot of flack for this choice, but hear me out.

Yes, Unfriended is a horror movie that is purely style over substance. Everyone's seen the killer ghost story dozens of times, and the fact that the movie is full of a bunch of unlikeable teenagers like in the 80's makes the story seem every more generic. And yet, it really isn't. Keep in mind that this is a movie about a bunch of stupid and ignorant teenagers that are teenagers in 2015. These are people with completely different social alignments and attitudes than previous generations horror movies. People will still be killed and brutally eviscerated, but relevant issues like cyber-bullying and social media are brought up and used as tools against the bullies and teenagers. It's actually a really interesting take on the genre if you ask me. Nowhere near as deep and memorable as The Babadook, but still a relevant one.

But what's really interesting to talk about is the style of the movie. Unfriended is a movie that takes place over a single Skype call with characters popping in and out in real time while the audience sees nothing but a laptop screen. We're so immersed into the world that we see the characters dart around their desktop, open folders and pictures, and each new page is almost designed to make the audience nervous. Will there be anything disturbing or creepy on the next thing that Blair pulls up, or will there be a subtle hint as to what's going on somewhere on screen? No one knows, but it was great to watch the movie for the first time and have your focus all over the place trying to find out any clues that the audience can.

I know for a fact that this is going to become a trendsetter, for better or worse. People are going to copy this movie and use it's style again and again and I'm going to get sick of it probably by this time next year. Still, for a freshman effort and for trying something new with the horror genre disguised as a throwback, it's a movie that I think pulls off exactly what it sets out to do.

#7: Straight Outta Compton
I'm not someone who regularly listens to rap music. Hell, I can't even say I like rap music if we're being perfectly honest here. While I know that the Kendrick Lamars and the Eminems are great artists, it seems like we have more 2-Chainzs than we do legitimately great rappers. Also, those three are the only rappers I can actually name check, just proving how white and not into rap I really am.

Straight Outta Compton was a movie that made me want to learn more about rap and N.W.A. in particular. It seemed to have a very Goodfellas-esque vibe to them going from rags to riches and then slowly watching several of the peter out and spiral out of control. The major difference being that Straight Outta Compton is surprisingly relevant in today's society and had a phenomenal ensemble cast. Everyone here knocked it out of the park and perfectly got across the attitude of N.W.A.

Even though the movie is pretty long and has a lot of different characters and subplots, it was all very easy to digest and made me care about each and every plot, which was very rare for a movie to do. Straight Outta Compton was probably the most surprising movie of the year for me and I'm rooting for it to do well come awards season.

#6: Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F
Now, humor me for a bit. Everyone and their mother knows that I like anime. I was going to put an anime feature film somewhere on this list come hell or high water, but Japan and its international releases always have me iffy. Do I count a movie's release here stateside as its actual release date, or do I qualify it as when it first came out? Digimon Adventure tri, and The Boy and the Beast were released in Japan this year, but they're getting released in the states next year. So, after thinking long and hard about it, I decided that a U.S release date determines what year I'm going to count a movie as. Resurrection F came out this year in August, so that'll do well.

I take it that there are two types of Dragon Ball Z fans; the character fans and the action fans. Character fans are people that like the series for its characters and plot more, while the action fans enjoy the series for its excellent fight scenes. Resurrection F appeases the former fans by having the most beautiful action scenes the series has ever known and by bringing back THE Dragon Ball Z villain, Freiza, to try and destroy Earth for reals this time. Not only do we see Goku and Vegeta kick some serious ass with Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan powerups (yeah that name still sounds ridiculous), but we get to see fan favorite characters like Gohan, Piccolo, Tien, Krillin, and even Master Roshi kick some serious ass against Freiza's army.

I'm a sucker for a well animated feature film, and seeing Dragon Ball Z again on the big screen was a fantastic treat. Sure it may not have the deepest plot in the series and its place in the DBZ franchise may not be as significant as last year's Battle of Gods, but it's still a damned fine action film that gives the audience exactly what they wanted to see and more.

#5: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
It was inevitable that we would see The Force Awakens on this list, but I don't think everyone understands just how lucky we were that this movie was as good as it was.

Taking away the hype machine and the anticipation, we're left with a movie that pretty much recreates the entire original trilogy in one movie. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but upon release, no one cared about it at all. No one cared that it was a story that we've seen three times before, because it was a phenomenally executed one. It gave us new and interesting characters, major twists, even bigger twists upon those previous twists, and most importantly, made everyone forget about the disappointing prequel trilogy.

Hell, The Force Awakens even went above and beyond the call of duty by giving us some fantastic action scenes, great comedy, and by introducing two new compelling and interesting characters that solidified how much potential the sequel trilogy has. Rey is a mysterious, yet powerful character that has us asking more and more questions about her than we ever did about Luke, Han, or Leia. And then we have Kylo Ren, who is probably the most compelling character in the movie based solely on his actions, his personality, his short temper, and his relationship between all of the main characters. He's the one character I'm more excited about than ever to see fleshed out in future installments.

But then again, what do I really need to say about The Force Awakens? You know it's good, I know it's good, a large majority of the population knows its good, so it's a damned good movie. Well done Lucasfilms.

#4: The Revenant
I always wanted The Revenant to succeed. It's Leo's next chance at winning a Best Actor award, it's made by the same man that made Birdman, it has frontiersmen fighting bears, and it's one fo the most beautifully shot movies I've seen in years. The production history behind this movie was beyond brutal, and it came out in every shot of this movie. Trust me when I say that The Revenant is hard to watch solely because of what these characters go through.

There's almost a part of me that doesn't want to spoil what happens here, and another part of me that finds this movie incredibly hard to describe. You know that film is a visual media? Yeah, this plays up the visual aspect more than anything else. The Revenant is a slow, beautiful, yet absolutely intense movie that had me screaming for more. It's nearly impossible to describe how this movie looks because there is literally no other comparison I can make to it because it looks that unique. Make no mistake though, The Revenant is a movie that film fans will adore. The average audience will go into it for the Leo performance, but even then his performance alone is enough to warrant a watch. If he does not get the Best Actor win this year, then there is no God. Just do yourself a favor and go see this movie now. It just got a wide release, it won a Golden Globe for Best Drama, so there's no reason to miss this must see film.

#3: Mad Max Fury Road 
If you were to tell me that the next Mad Max film was going to be good, I would easily believe you. If you were going to tell me that it would be fantastic, I still woul dhave believed you. If you told me that Mad Max: Fury Road was going to revolutionize cinema, win countless Best Picture awards, and be the best action movie in decades while united film critics, audiences, and the internet into a giant collective mass of War Boys, I would have called you crazy. 

Fury Road is a cinematic tour de force. There is nothing else quite like it and nothing else that was as grand and as majestic in an intelligent and brilliant practice. This was the movie that I wished I could have made. An adrenaline fueled action movie with acrobatics, explosions, massive car chases, a man strapped to a monster truck laced with speakers as he shreds a flamethrower guitar with a legion of drummer behind him, all disguising a poignant feminist message? This is the work of a madman! But hot damn was it glorious to watch. 

Fury Road was the one movie I watched more times than any other movie this year. I saw this with friends. I saw this with family. I saw this with several people from England. Hell, I even showed this to my dog, and every time our jaws dropped and all I could do was melt into a puddle by the end of each playing. Max was cool, Furiosa was incredible, Immortan Joe was a despicable villain, and I loved every second of it. 

The fact that this is a movie that is universally loved astounds me, and it's even more astounding that there's a very good chance that Fury Road could win Best Picture at the Oscars. The movie that united the world in a singular cry of "WITNESS ME!!!" is finally getting the recognition that it deserves. I will ride into the gates of Valhalla, shiny and chrome with this movie. Amen.

#2: The Hateful Eight
I've always been a fan of Tarantino. I don't think the man has ever made a bad movie, and even his worst movie, Jackie Brown, a lot of people love. Tarantino is probably one of only a handful of directors that I have complete, 100% faith in. I loved all of his previous films, and The Hateful Eight is no exception. 

The best way to describe The Hateful Eight would be if you took the plot of Reservoir Dogs, put it in the world of Django Unchained, gave it the structure of Pulp Fiction, and gave it just a touch of Inglorious Bastards. This is probably the most Tarantino movie that Tarantino has ever made. Cinematically, it's brilliant. Every shot is amazing and seeing the huge winter wasteland that the characters are stuck in is a sight to behold. Even better is that there are no, and I mean zero, bad performances in this movie. All eight of the main cast are absolutely fantastic. I can't even say if any one of them stand out in particular, because all eight of them bring something awesome to the table. 

Samuel L. Jackson has an outstanding monologue that I say rivals his monologue in Pulp Fiction. Walton Goggins finally has his breakthrough role into Hollywood with a very layered performance. Tim Roth returns to the Tarantino-verse as does the ever lovable Michael Madsen. Jennifer Jason Leigh has a phenomenal turn as the only female member in the cabin, and even Bruce Dern and Kurt Russel manage to steal several scenes they're in. I cannot stress this enough, but every actor here does an outstanding job and makes the movie even more fun. 

I can't even talk about a Tarantino movie without mentioning the incredible script. What can I say? It's just a dynamite script that gives just enough details about each character and weaves a fairly interesting mystery. Why are these people in this one cabin in the middle of nowhere during a snowstorm? Over the course of three hours, we get our answers. Oh God do we get our answers. The Hateful Eight was a movie that we were damned lucky to get, so I'm going to relish every second I have with it and encourage everyone else to give this Wild West mystery thriller a try.

#1: Inside Out
Inside Out is a movie that's very near and dear to my heart. It's by far the best Pixar movie I have ever seen and is a movie that manages to tackle themes and ideas that most adult movies don't want to touch, and Pixar was able to do it fro five year olds.

There's an old addage that the best kids movies are movies that both children and adults could love, and that cannot be more true here. Nearly every person who I talk to that has seen Inside Out has enjoyed it immensely, whether it was because of the outstanding voice work, the great animation, or the fact that it toyed and played with several different visual styles throughout its whole run. At it's core, it's a character study about a little girl who was forced to move across the country away from home. For the entire movie, we see her struggle to accept her new life, and we can visually see it happening. We see, for all intents and purposes, the death of a little girl's childhood. Ask yourself how often we get movies that explore such deep psychological elements like that. And again, Pixar made it so a five year old could understand this.

The fact that Pixar distilled a this phenomenal idea into a 90 minute movie astounds me and leaves a larger impact on me than seeing Furiosa attempt to free the breeding wives, Samuel L. Jackson talking about his "big black dingus", or Rey discovering the Force. This kids movie was able to top all of those movies without even trying.

Outside of the superficial elements, there's a ton of great humor in here. Seeing the emotions in other people's heads is always worth a laugh, seeing how dreams are made, and why jingles get stuck in your head were all hilarious moments that I still laugh at to this day. And did I mention how outstanding the visuals are? I could write an entire essay about Inside Out and praising why it's so good and why I care so much about it.

Pixar is a studio that has frustrated me these past years. They can do so many great things and tell so many great stories, but they'd rather spend all of their time and effort on safe movies like Finding Dory, Cars 2, and even Brave. When they tackle an original idea, they're outstanding, but they'd rather make movies that don't feel like Pixar movies now. Now they want to make movies that lack that kind of magic. This was the first time in five years that I actually cared about a Pixar movie, and if The Good Dinosaur was anything to go by, it may be a while until we get the next legitimately fantastic Pixar movie. Sanjay's Super Team was a fantastic original idea, and we'll have to wait until 2017 to see their next original idea, Coco, a movie about the Day of the Dead. Still, if I have to wait two or five more years for another great Pixar movie, at least I have Inside Out, my favorite film of 2015. 

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