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Mike Lee’s Top 10 Favorite Movies Of 2015
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Top 10 Movies of 2015

Top ten movie lists are purely subjective, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. There really isn’t a definitive list as to the best movies of the year are, because it’s all a matter of personal taste. It’s difficult to argue how Inside Out might be better than The Big Short. Try to compare why Spotlight is better than Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It doesn’t do any of us any good trying to rank Room over or below Mad Max Fury Road.

Anyone can put up a ranking, and no one list is the same as any other. But I guess that is what makes the practice of making these lists so appealing. Reading and arguing which films deserve to be in a yearly top ten, or even take the title of the year’s best.

And because I haven’t seen movies like The Revenant, Carol, Brooklyn, Creed, Tangerine, Dope, End Of The Tour, and a few others, it makes it that much more difficult. But I can tell you that the final four movies were the hardest to rank since I started doing these top ten favorite lists.

So, I can’t stress this enough, this list isn’t a definitive list of the 10 best movies of 2015. The best explanation as to what this really is, is a list of my 10 favorite movies of 2015. Ones that have stuck with me. These are the kind of films that I could not stop talking about with my friends or fellow critics. That to me means so much more than any official top ten list.

Before you head into my ten favorite movies of 2015, I thought I throw in a few honorable mentions:

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Review

Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation

One of the best in the Mission: Impossible franchise, Tom Cruise proves once again why the recent installments have been better than any of the James Bond films that Daniel Craig has starred in. Extremely intense, but also is able to lighten things up with a bit of humor, Rogue Nation falls just shy of being in my top ten. Although I have seen this multiple times, I can’t help but feel like I am watching it for the first time with each viewing. It’s exciting and action packed, and I can’t wait to show my friends who haven’t seen it yet.

Ant-Man

Ant-Man

Some might argue that this is the weakest of the Marvel films in the MCU. Given the film’s troubled production history I would almost agree. But Peyton Reed was able to give us a throughly entertaining film by adding a fun heist element with a father figure who would do absolutely anything for his daughter. Of course many of us would have liked to have seen what Edgar Wright would have done had he stayed on to direct, but the film still retains much of his spirit, and has a few touches of Adam McKay and Paul Rudd‘s humor as well.

Pixar The Good Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur

I found this story completely relatable as I have experienced what Arlo has gone through in terms of trying to live up to expectations. Pixar’s latest film isn’t exactly the strongest. Having gone through it’s own series of production problems and setbacks, it’s easy to see why a there are those who would write the film off. But the beautiful cinematography immediately captures your eye. While the plastic characters may be a bit off putting against the photorealistic backdrop, there are moments in this twist on a story about boy (a dinosaur) and his dog (a human) that will have you shedding a tear or two.

Straight Outta Compton movie still 03

Straight Outta Compton

Art is indeed a reflection of reality, and much of that reality still hasn’t changed. With the rise of videos being posted on social media we are now more exposed to police brutality more than ever. But Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and did not have that same luxury. Instead, they used their art to speak the truth. Much of the film’s strength lies within the powerful performances of relative unknowns, many of whom are moving on to bigger projects now. Credit also has to go to director F. Gary Gray who turned this musical biopic into one of the most powerful films of the decade.

Matt Damon in The Martian

The Martian

For a film with such a bleak story, Ridley Scott‘s The Martian is funny, positive, and thrilling. Matt Damon in a pretty faithful adaptation of the book of the same name. Though Scott’s previous efforts may have not been up to standard, The Martian restores our faith in his ability to direct blockbuster films. Through all the desperate times and lost hope, The Martian seems to find a way to make us laugh, and root for a successful mission that could finally bring Matt Damon home.

And now, here are my top ten favorite movies of 2015.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl trailer header

10 – Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

I am not one for the schmaltzy and overly sentimental, but there is something about Alfonso Gomez-Rejon‘s Me And Earl And The Dying Girl that really spoke to me. These coming of age films will always have a soft spot in my heart, and what’s more is that the film does more than talk about a tragic disease like cancer. That is just what lies on the surface, beneath it all lies our relationships we have and the value of friendship. Thomas Mann (The Stanford Prison Experiment, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story) and Olivia Cooke (Ouija, The Signal) provide terrific performances, but it is really R.J. Cyler‘s breakout performance that really grabs your attention. Together, they have perfect chemistry, almost as if they have been life-long friends. Of course since it is one of those rare coming of age films, it has to be just right, and Me And Earl And The Dying Girl manages to have that perfect balance of comedy and drama.

The Big Short

9 – The Big Short

Adam McKay is no real stranger to speaking out against corruption on the corporate level. We first saw that in the buddy cop film, The Other Guys, where the director showed us an infographic that explained how a Ponzi scheme works in layman terms. But now McKay took that to a whole new level by writing and directing a film adaptation of adaptation of the Michael Lewis non-fiction book of the same name, which centered on the people who bet against the banks during the financial collapse of 2008. As clever as the film is, the all-star cast proves that everyone can perform out of their comfort zone. Steve Carell can be serious – as we saw in Foxcatcher – and Ryan Gosling can be funny – as we saw in Crazy Stupid Love.

But the film’s true genius lies within how engaging it can be, not once losing the audience’s attention. The Big Short is sharp, witty, and hilarious. There will even be times you question whether or not the film is a parody. In some ways the film is like Inside Out, taking an extremely difficult concept like the financial crash, and turning it into something that is easily digestible by adding scathingly hilarious comedy and engaging storytelling.

Sicario, starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin

8 – Sicario

Sicario may have some stellar performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro, but much of the film’s strength lies within the spectacular cinematography from DP Roger Deakins. In fact the shot selection can even be considered character in the film. This unnerving thriller from director Denis Villeneuve is a dark look into America’s war on drugs, and a deep dive into the twisted rabbit hole of U.S. Foreign Policy, corruption, misogyny, and morality.

It’s ability to use real world themes and current events to show us what it is like to have real boots on the ground as opposed to seeing the amounts of red tape the lawyers have to cut through to pass a law or a bill. It is just a ruthless and complex film that is just like peeling an onion. Blunt is absolutely engaging as we see her character develop throughout the well crafted story. Meanwhile, Benicio Del Toro delivers yet another strong performance, one of his best since Traffic. The fact that Sicario was so well executed, supported by the strength of its performance from the cast as well as its set pieces, it’s no wonder many of us are putting the film in our top ten lists.

Spotlight trailer header image

7 – Spotlight
Print journalism is a dying format, but if there was a film to remind us of the importance of print journalism and how their job makes inexperienced and amateur writers look insignificant, it’s Spotlight. What the Spotlight team did was expose a dark truth through years of research and questioning, and reminds us what real journalism looked like before bloggers became obsessed with hits and clicks. Directed and co-written by Thomas McCarthy, Spotlight gives audiences a look at the complex nature of the Catholic Church systematically covering up the sexual abuse scandal.

Though the perfectly-executed procedural drama is a bit of a slow burn and can be a by the numbers kind of film, Spotlight is fueled by an all-star cast, all of whom give terrific and engaging performances. Though McCarthy’s films are known to be a bit more family friend, Spotlight is a bit of a different turn for the Win-Win director. No matter the tone, Spotlight is a film that is an absolute must see.

The Hateful Eight

6 – The Hateful Eight

Despite its troubled history, The Hateful Eight found a way to reach audiences through a live-read. The reaction was something you might expect to see from a live-read script that was written by Quentin Tarantino, and as such, the film ad to follow. So if you weren’t lucky enough to catch that live-read, then The Hateful Eight is exactly that – with some edits to the script of course. Like Reservoir Dogs, a majority of The Hateful Eight takes place in one setting, in this case Minnie’s Haberdashery. bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is escorting fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), encounters another bounty hunter and Civil War vet Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). Together they head to Red Rock to collect on their bounties, with a blizzard quickly catching up to them. They are then approached by Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who says he is the new Sheriff of Red Rock, and unless they bring him along, they will be unable to collect. When the two finally arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, they encounter three people they have never seen before: Bob, the Mexican (Demián Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) who claims to be Red Rock’s Hangman, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) a cow puncher, and Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) a former Confederate general. But it is obvious that Ruth can only trust Warren, and soon it becomes a game trust.

Shot in beautiful 70 mm, The Hateful Eight has all the stylish over-the-top action, humor, and violence you would expect to see in a Tarantino film. There is no shortage of racism in it either. As the game starts to elimate its players, Ennio Morricone’s score builds, adding to the intensity and unraveling the mystery of who is who. It may be a bit of a slow burn, and there maybe times where there are lulling moments, but for the most part Tarantino’s latest film is a whole lot of fun, and is an experience to watch in 70mm.

Ex Machina SXSW Isaac Gleeson

5 – Ex Machina

In what can be perceived as a modern day sci-fi version of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Alex Garland makes his directorial debut with Ex Machina. This sleek and smart look at the relationship between man and machine is a rare kind of sci-fi film that is as thrilling as it is complex. What makes this film so gripping by drawing us in with our relationship with technology, and our obsession to see just how far we can advance it. But it also has us questioning what it mans to be human.

Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, and Oscar Isaac star in this wonderfully crafted film, that will have chills running down your spine. As dark as it is, it still is a joy to watch, the case give fantastic performances, and watching Isaac and Mizuno dance is the definition of a scene stealer. So take note, is many things, but disappointing isn’t one of them. Watch it as soon as you can if you haven’t already done so.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens 06

4 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

While Star Wars: The Force Awakens has its flaws, it is the kind of film that is so purely entertaining that said flaws are more of an afterthought. No know knew much about the from the very beginning, and despite that, fans were still on board knowing full well that the plot of the film wasn’t officially revealed. Even though the film does draw elements from A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, J.J. Abrams accomplished the daunting task of bringing everyone back to a galaxy far far away. Sure those subtle nods like the desert planet Jakku – instead of Tatooine – or using the characters from the original trilogy were nice, but Abrams decision to make the film as practical as possible, to use the least amount of green screen as possible, added a certain layer to the latest installment of the Star Wars franchise that that had us believe that a story like this long ago, in a galaxy far far away, actually did happen. The textures were all so real that you could almost touch it. The story was still fun, despite some of its flaws. The dogfights between Tie Fighters and X-Wings. The lightsaber duels. That unspeakable moment that had everyone gasping on opening night. It was all there. And was more than enough for us to turn the Prequels into a distant memory.

Room starring Brie Larson

3 – Room

It’s no Short Term 12 in terms of making your eyes welling with tears, Brie Larson stars in yet another emotionally powerful and gripping film. And she is actually the supporting actress of all things. While she deserves credit for bringing this gripping adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s book of the same name to life, much of the credit has to go to the young Jacob Tremblay. In the film Larson plays Ma, a young woman held captive in a small Room. Living with her is her son, Jacob, whom she had with her captor. Most who are familiar with Short Term 12 knew that Larson could deliver a standout performance, but Tremblay’s reaction to each critical moment in the film is really a sight to behold. At such a young age, Tremblay really captures your attention.

Director Lenny Abrahamson was able to capture a purely organic relationship between the two actors. But his work goes beyond the mother and son relationship. It shows what being exposed to the outside world to a young child, especially one who has been held captive for the better part of five years. Despite its very dark themes, this emotional tour de force is a beautifully uplifting film that will leave you awe-struck.

Disney Pixar's INSIDE OUT movie review

2 – Inside Out

One of the most powerful films that Pixar has put out, Inside Out continues to prove why Pixar is at the top of the animation game. Looking the past the film’s beautiful colors and some cartoony antics, lies a very well thought out and deep film. Full of compassion and humor, Inside Out expresses a wide range of emotions, and dares to go where few films even think of exploring. It’s amazing to see how much research Pete Doctor and Jonas Rivera put into this film before they went into full production. The same team behind up, could have made it difficult for audiences to understand how concepts like abstract thought, dreams, and memory works for humans, but the two were able to write the rules using the research and a bit of Pixar magic to turn those concepts into humorous lessons.

Overall, Pixar’s risk paid off in spades. The storytelling is absolutely wonderful, as Docter uses real-life experiences with his daughter as the basis for the film. But the film’s ability to draw out our emotions by taking us down memory lane that will have you connecting to all of the film’s characters, whether they are humans or the emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) – that are in their (and our) heads.

Mad Max: Fury Road

1 – Mad Max: Fury Road

I’ll be honest, I have never seen a Mad Max film until Mad Max: Fury Road, and now I am starting to realize that I missed a lot. George Miller, the man behind these Mad Max films, had taken somewhat of a break, and turned his attention to some family-friendly fare – but that didn’t stop him from attempting to do Justice League. Still he never lost touch with this chrome world that is full of both hope and despair. What this film did was reinvigorate how we saw action films. Through its limited dialogue, we let the roars of the engine speak for the film. The building intensity made us sweat. The practical effects that made us believe that this is the kind of world we can expect to live in if Earth does indeed come a desolate desert wasteland.

Miller deserves a lot of the credit to giving the franchise new life. But let’s not forget that some of that credit also belongs to the cast. Though there was limited dialogue, Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, and Nicholas Hoult enraptured us with their performances as Furiosa, Max, and Nux, respectively. Then there is that incredible score by Junkie XL, that has most of us putting the film’s soundtrack on our iPods so we can rock out during a gym session. You could tell that there was a lot of attention to detail to make sure that Fury Road would make our blood pump twice as fast as normal. Every shot, every angle, there isn’t a moment in the film that had you on the edge of your seat. And even if there were moments to rest, and there ver few of them, once the action starts, it hits the ground running.

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