Alright. The Oscars have been picked, and it’s time to finally drop my rankings for the year of 2015. Fitting time as any to drop this. I could wait a little longer to see as much from 2015 as I could, but that just would take to much time and I know myself. My ADD mind jumps from interests to interests, the wait would just be a waste of time. Looking back at the year shows how god damn good it was overall. A step up in many respects from 2014. At the very least, I didn’t hate anything as much as I did Tusk or A Good Day To Die Hard. And my top movie is a legit classic and somehow bests the topper of 2014, The Raid 2. So many greats came out this year and it just kept me supremely entertained all year long. From the big budget blockbusters that kept the theaters busy all the way to the underseen/underappreciated DTV movies, lots of good and surprisingly few bad. Or at the very least, I stayed away from the bad for the most part. So dig in and take a look at my rankings. I go through categories similar to the Oscars, and then rank all the movies I saw in the year while giving the top ten props with some write ups. So give it a look when you got the time. What a year.
Ryan Coogler – Creed
Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
S. Craig Zahler – Bone Tomahawk
Steven Spielberg – Bridge of Spies
George Miller – Mad Max
The work George Miller’s done here is unbelievable. Action filmmaking has evolved after this movie and it is thanks to his pure ability. He had immense goals with this movie, one that would be predicated entirely on his abilities to tell a story visually. He gets amazing work from his actors, picks the absolute perfect shots to land all the visceral action beats and paces the story like a prophet. Miller has been a well loved presence in Hollywood amongst his peers, thanks to making consistently good to great movies for 30 plus years. And where others of his 80s debut have diminished greatly, like Twilight Zone Movie co-directors John Landis and Joe Dante, Miller has crafted his masterwork here.
Best Original Screenplay
Alex Garland – Ex Machina
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley – Inside Out
S. Craig Zahler – Bone Tomahawk
Taylor Sheridan – Sicario
Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
Quentin may very well be our best damn screenwriter working today. His way with words has been unprecedented, despite the many attempts at the wannabes to follow in his wake. With every passing script, he’s getting more literary and more interested in exploring dynamic themes in his uber violent commercial flicks. And this is his most interested in exploring themes through the dynamic of a closed room play, having characters bounce off each other. But where Quentin has always been playful before, this is his first foray into full on cynicism. No fantasy here, allowing a put down people to see their oppressors defeated. Quentin is putting a mirror up to the world and showing us the seedy, hateful underbelly of it. It’s a fascinating and unflinching look into the darkness in us all and the nihilistic ways that bring us together.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington – Creed
Spike Lee and Kevin Willimot – Chi Raq
George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris – Mad Max Fury Road
Drew Goddard – The Martian
Aaron Sorkin – Steve Jobs
Sorkin is a great writer. One of our best (although I don’t think he’s as good as Quentin). He may have stumbled in the last decade on TV, but his work in the movies has been top notch. So much so in fact that he may have very well just peaked with the script for the latest look at a tech icon. Structurally his most ambitious, it tackles the life of it’s subject in three time periods. The real time lead up to three product launches, where we get to know him and the changes in the relationships he has with those around him. It’s very theatrical and totally skirts the line of realism, but even they call it out at a point in the movie. As for the subject matter at hand, this one focuses on a much tougher subject than the last tech genius he tackled (Mark Zuckerberg). This time out he has to make the titular character into someone deeply unlikeable but likable at the same time. Yet he does and it makes for a riveting watch.
Emmanuel Lubezki – The Revenant
Robert Richardson – The Hateful Eight
Dan Lausten – Crimson Peak
Maryse Alberti – Creed
John Seale – Mad Max: Fury Road
Seale was retired for a few years before this movie but was lured back by the madness Miller had in mind. And what a return it was for him. This is one of the best looking movies in years and one of the best looking mainstream movies ever made. It goes in the opposite direction most apocalyptic stories take by being very colorful and bright. Miller is the one who set the visual style with his original Mad Max movies, and then he blew that up with Seale. It’s lush and gorgeous to look at. But not only that, the work he has to do to capture the insane stunt work on display is top notch. Everything is crisp and clear, set in the right spots to fully capture the visceral nature of it all. Chock full of iconic imagery, there’s nothing else to say but that this is the best looking movie of the year.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Mad Max: Fury Road
Action movies are among the best to look at for top notch editing. Since everything in an action scene is faked to a degree (or with CGI, totally), you gotta edit things to make it all visceral and entertaining. An action scene can be totally worthless without a good editor (just look at Spectre to see that in action). And Mad Max has the best editing. By the very fact that it’s the best action movie in years it has to. It’s fast paced without being choppy or convoluted. It’s thrilling without being overwhelming. It’s a masterclass in editing.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Hateful Eight
Ennio Morricone may very well be the best composer in film history. John Williams makes it a tough case to say definitively. So I’ll say Ennio is my favorite. He is most famous for his western work in Italy, but he hasn’t made one in 40 years. Until Quentin came a calling, and Ennio delivered another masterpiece. But it’s not a typical western score. It doesn’t sound at home in a Leone or Corbucci movie. This is like a western tinged horror movie score and it ratchets up the tension up considerably in the flick. It’s fantastic music by the master and should get him his much overdue Oscar.
Best Visual Effects
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
We Are Still Here
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Mad Max: Fury Road
Visual effects isn’t just CGI filled action sequences of unachievable stunts. A visual effect is the background work of a movie to make it more lush and more in line with the world building you wanna do. It’s using CGI to take out the wires and equipment that makes stunts safer for the performers to do out of a scene. And sure, it’s the CGI that is stuff that could never exist in the world. Mad Max is filled to the brim with immense effects work and not in the way that calls attention to itself. You believe every moment in this movie despite the fact that its world is as phony as Star Wars. That’s some immense effects work there.
Best Supporting Actress
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina
Tessa Thompson – Creed
Angela Bassett – Chi-Raq
Jessica Chastain – Crimson Peak
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
It’s been a nice banner year for Leigh, between this and Anomalisa. Pretty much spitting in the face of the Hollywood trend of putting older (over 35 years old) actresses out to pasture. In this one, she gets the nod by Tarantino to play the villain role, the first leading villain of the female persuasion in Tarantino’s filmography. She does so with relish, playing a villain that isn’t as on the nose flashy/evil as Hans Landa or Calvin Candie but is slyly one of the worst evils he’s created. She knows she’s bad and she loves it. No bullshit rationalizations. And she does so being chained up and put down the vast majority of the movie. But her power lies in her ways of subtle manipulations and devious nature. It’s a great performance that makes you really feel for her when being beaten down by the giant men surrounding her but know damn well she deserves it in many ways. It makes her fate at the end a real confusing moment for most, swinging wildly through emotions.
Best Supporting Actor
Richard Jenkins – Bone Tomahawk
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Benecio Del Toro – Sicario
Oscar Issac – Ex Machina
Sylvester Stallone – Creed
Stallone has been beaten up a lot in his career, most of it fairly so. He is an immense self saboteur, going from giant wins to massive fucking losses. He’s a smart guy though and he knows when a good opportunity is at his feet, and this was one of those golden opportunities. Stallone seemed to have said goodbye to Rocky Balboa but Ryan Coogler resurrected the icon, bringing Stallone back to give the most heartfelt performance of his career. It’s a stellar performance, filled with pain and history and a dash of heart. This is a beaten down Rocky, one where life has won and he’s waiting for the bell to ring. You just gotta look at his eyes or his defeated posture or his slowed down speech patterns. This was a man filled with life, and it’s all gone. He wrings every possible emotion out of this role and you feel it all. This would be a fantastic performance by anybody else. But coming from Stallone, this has gotten alot of well deserved praise.
Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road
Teyonah Parris – Chi-Raq
Cate Blanchett – Carol
Daisy Ridley – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Brie Larson – Room
Brie Larson is 24 years old and gives such a raw and fully realized performance that you know this is no fluke. She’s a great actress and this is more impressive than many seasoned actresses performances. Having to take on the heavy role of a kidnapped sex slave trying to keep her imprisoned son happy, this is not an easy role. There’s so many layers to it that it’s almost dizzying. But she nails it completely, making this character completely human. You feel for her and understand every decision she makes. All the emotional turns she takes is completely understandable. It’s just unreal and so impressive.
Jacob Tremblay – Room
Michael B. Jordan – Creed
Tom Hardy – Mad Max: Fury Road
Jason Mitchell – Straight Outta Compton
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Fassbender is one of the three best actors of his generation, never giving a bad or false performance yet. Here he’s gotten a real meaty role, one that is very difficult on the page. Jobs is a prick of a man, totally dedicated to his tech, human relations be damned. But he’s not a complete prick. The humanity peeks in at times and you can see the man underneath the battleworn armor. Fassbender chews into the role with all his might and delivers a fully charismatic performance. It doesn’t hide Jobs’ shitty side, which makes his likability all that more fascinating. In a year of some lesser nominees, and few outright great performances, Fassbender stands tall.
Best Ensemble Cast
The Hateful Eight
Quentin always amasses a fantastic group of actors when he makes a movie, and this is no exception. Mainly because it’s filled with actors he’s worked with before, with Demian Bichir and Jennifer Jason Leigh being the rookies of the group. But they fit in perfectly with this group of mean sum bitches. They chew on the dialogue with vigor and make one question their own loyalties to the other characters. Everyone is fully realized, fun as shit to watch and totally unique. It’s a great group of actors paired with great characters. There’s no question that this is the best collection of actors this year.
Alicia Vikander (The Man From UNCLE, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl) and Taron Egerton (Kingsman)
Two actors showed up big this year in good star making turns. On the male front, no young gun had as good a coming out party as Taron Egerton. Starring as the trainee to be a new generation James Bond in Kingsman: The Secret Service, Egerton showed off a lot of chops. More chops than really necessary for such an over the top movie that’s entertaining as hell. He’s charming, troubled, action ready, and funny to boot. It’s a star making turn that should be the start of a hell of a career.
For the ladies this year, no one made as big a splash as Alicia Vikander. Exploding out of nowhere in the critically acclaimed Ex Machina, that alone would have made this a banner year for her. Playing the sentient robot with unknown goals, she gives a bravura performance. But then she goes on to do great work in The Man From UNCLE, damn near stealing the show from the two main characters. And if that wasn’t enough, she garnered an Oscar Nomination for her role in The Danish Girl. All three performances were stunning and completely different than the others. The range this woman has is astounding and she is gonna be working long in this here industry. Or, as long as they’ll let a woman work in this industry. So, for another ten years or so.
Most Overrated Movies
The Revenant is not a bad movie. But it is most definitely the most overpraised movie this year. But a god damned long shot. It’s nothing but a glorified B movie. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that it’s reaching for greater depth and doesn’t reach it. At all. It’s a movie that’s at odds with itself. It’s gorgeous and brutal, but empty headed and boring. The ending is also just really bad, and not just in an overly convenient way. It lays it’s themes out plainly by having DiCaprio say them aloud, but its not connected in any way to what we’d seen prior. It’s bizarre how it misses its own point. And also undercuts it’s own story by just making the entire journey pointless. But not in a nihilistic, Coen Brothers type way. It’s a fine enough movie to be watched on a purely genre level, but it doesn’t go beyond that and the praise it’s gotten is unreal.
Jurassic World, on the other hand, is a really bad movie. From a purely storytelling and filmic perspective, it’s no good. It’s wild that a movie that so fundamentally doesn’t understand the appeal of the series it’s apart of managed to be so massively successful. It’s almost Transformers level in it’s disparity. It set records. Almost everyone saw it and a lot of them liked it. Sure, most of them are the weird 90s kids you see on facebook all the time bemoaning the loss of the bad media they had back then. This movie is not shot well. The dinosaurs look worse than they did in the 90s. It’s filled with so many plot holes you might as well call it a written Grand Canyon. The action is bland and boring. It feels like cheap fan fiction and not particularly well written one at that. I mentioned Transformers before, and it’s an apt comparison. But in one way, I’d say Transformers is more interesting. Those movies have personality in how bad they are. Michael Bay is always interesting and his sick personality bleeds into those. Jurassic World doesn’t have the benefit of an interesting director leaking into the movie. Wildly undeserving of its success and love from the Nickelodeon brigade.
Most Underrated Movies
Bone Tomahawk and Crimson Peak
Bone Tomahawk was released in a very limited capacity and basically put onto VOD/Blu Ray quickly. A small scale western, it seemed like it wasn’t gonna be anything that interesting. But watching the movie, this is one of the best movies of the year. It’s a wild mashup of John Ford western and Italian Cannibal flick. Immensely well written with dialogue that pops, characters that defy easy convention, and a brutal sense of nihilism with some tinges of hope in there. It’s an amazing movie, one that shouldn’t work but does. The cast is superb, with Kurt Russell doing another great western role and Richard Jenkins giving a performance that should be in all Awards talk. If nothing else, it should be talked about if only for the nastiest scene of the year (hint: Wishbone). A crime this has fallen to the side.
Crimson Peak is not the movie it was marketed as. This is no horror movie. It has horror elements. The damn movie even has a character say it aloud, that this isn’t a ghost story but a story with ghosts in it. It uses the ghosts as a thematic element and not some jump scare generator. This is really a gothic romance filled with violence and tragedy and insanity. It pulls no punches and is darkly beautiful for it. Del Toro returns to a more fairy tale based storytelling and it pays off in dividends. I loved this movie and feel no surprise at its box office failing. How do you sell this movie? Even they didn’t know. A shame. This is a gem and should be seen in droves.
Carpet Bomb of Hate
Taken 3 and Chappie
Taken 3 is a fucking abortion. They try to tell us that this is an action movie. But they manage to make the most boring and poorly executed action movie I’ve seen in a while. Neeson doesn’t even hit somebody for about 30 minutes. And no one is even fucking taken. So what are we doing here? It’s a slack, miserably fucking movie. The plotting is garbage and ruins what could have been a good premise for a Neeson actioneer. Just do The Fugitive but with Neeson. They failed that. Director Olivier Megaton is just absolutely terrible at his job, shooting this movie into oblivion. Cut to ribbons in the edit bay, this is damn near unwatchable. I couldn’t believe I was watching this in real life. Fuck this movie. I’m just glad Neeson redeemed himself in a way with Run All Night later in the year.
Chappie is just a massive disappointment. I like Blompkamp. District 9 is a stone cold masterpiece. I think Elysium is given too much shit, a immaculately crafted B movie. But this just feels like a joke. Like he had to deliver something to get out of a contract quick. Cause this is so half baked and unwatchable. Nothing works aside from the CGI for the grating asshole robot. Giving Die Antwoord a movie to plague our eyes with was a cinematic act of terrorism. It’s not even action packed. There’s one action scene in it and it’s not good. It’s mind blowingly bad. I hope Blompkamp can rebound from this wire hanger abortion. I do think he is talented in many ways, but this was like a parody of a Blompkamp movie.
The Movies: Ranked
68. Taken 3
66. San Andreas
65. Fantastic Four
63. Jupiter Ascending
62. Child 44
60. Jurassic World
59. The Danish Girl
58. The Woman In Black 2: Angel Of Death
56. It Follows
55. Son of Saul
50. Run All Night
49. Burying The Ex
48. Slow West
46. Wild Card
45. Ted 2
44. The Green Inferno
42. The Man From UNCLE
41. The Revenant
40. Cop Car
39. The Final Girls
37. Insidious Chapter 3
35. The Night Before
33. Digging Up The Marrow
30. The Big Short
29. Justice League: Throne Of Atlantis
27. The Death of Superman Lives
25. The Salvation
24. Justice League: Gods and Monsters
23. We Are Still Here
22. Avengers: Age of Ultron
21. Furious Seven
20. Bridge of Spies
19. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
18. Straight Outta Compton
17. Mr Holmes
16. The Look of Silence
14. Inside Out
13. Steve Jobs
11. The Martian
10. Crimson Peak – A very late addition to this list, I am ashamed I let this pass me by while it was in theaters. This is a fantastic return to form for Guillermo, going back to a more gothic fairy tale mode to tell a great story about how the past can ruin us. It’s a story with ghosts but the literal ghosts aren’t that important. There’s no exorcism or cleansing of a house, no mystery as to who died and how to lay them to rest. No, the past haunts some of these characters and form literally. It’s not a horror movie, it’s a tragic romance. The movie is gorgeous and the acting is great. It’s power comes in every element just working. It’s really just a great god damn movie.
9. Ex Machina – Sci fi can do amazing things. It takes some real, heavy ideas and puts them into a fanciful setting to make the medicine go down easier. This does that aplenty. The thematic stuff in here is real heavy, dark and cynical shit. The movie has the skeleton of Frankenstein as done by Asimov, but it is much more interested in misogyny. This is a really sly look into the different ways misogyny creep into the world and how it has different faces. That the world only has uses for women in service to men. And how women need to manipulate and kill their oppressors to get their own place in the world. This is heavy and not some big budget actioneer. This is a thinking mans sci fi movie, something akin to The Twilight Zone or Star Trek or Black Mirror. It’s visually gorgeous and acted like a motherfucker. This is powerful stuff and will have a good shelf life in the genre circles, with sci fi fans preaching for it for years to come.
8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens –This is a straight up emotional pick. It may not be the best constructed movie or the most emotionally resonant in the actual text. But the fact that we’re seeing new Star Wars and it was not only good but very much a fitting part of the Star Wars lore is what makes it sing. Seeing all the old faces in support of the new faces and the new faces are instantly as iconic and well drawn as the old ones. The world has gotten tougher but maybe a little more hopeful, with new heroes emerging maybe due to the force awakening? The action is great and the visuals are cool. It mirrors the original movie in many ways but as to highlight how different they are and how evolved the universe has become. But it’s really just that emotion that rushes through you when you see this world working, after 3 abortions that spat in the face of Star Wars, that lifts you high up. It’s a great feeling and one that I’m gonna go back to for a long time. It fits in perfectly.
7. Spotlight – I have a soft spot for movies about journalists doing their jobs and investigating something. Zodiac is one of my favorite movies ever. So this movie had a bit of a shortcut to my heart, and it didn’t disappoint. Following the team that blew the lid off the Catholic Church abuse in Boston, this is very smart and well made and detailed in its investigation. But it never bores, making everything move at a decent pace and making it very human. No one is a super hero, just regular ole Boston folks. It has a nice, low key Boston feel to it. And it’s a movie that doesn’t have an agenda. It doesn’t have a problem with the church itself, but with corruption and how an institution can affect the thinking of the society around it. The cast is great, the writing is smooth and the impact of the story is heavy. Just a great movie.
6. Kingsman: The Secret Service – In a year filled to the brim with spy movies, including a new James Bond movie, Kingsman is the cream of the crop. This is a send up of the spy genre, particularly James Bond ones, that still works on its own. It’s equal parts funny as it is thrilling, but with a surprising amount of smarts to it. Now, this isn’t an art movie. But the fact that it tackles the class system and the smarminess of the spy movie genre, it works very well. The action scenes are next level great, with the church massacre being legendary. The plot is fairly well done, a riff on an old Roger Moore era plot line with the rub that maybe the villain is right this time, but still a repugnant classist. Expertly crafted and a gigantic heap of dirty fun, this could have been the best action movie this year. If the number one movie on this list didn’t come out that is.
5. Sicario – Drug cartels are making their way into pop culture now, and Sicario may be the best movie about them at this point. It is a very tense, dark and cynical movie about the drug trade. Following Emily Blunt as she goes into the heart of darkness, herded by Josh Brolin and Beneicio Del Toro, we see how harsh and unrelenting the world can be and how uncaring the government is. This movie is tense as shit. Unbearably tense. The cast is great, but Del Toro just steals the show. It’s an amazing tightrope act he has to do with this role, and he does it with panache. A crime he wasn’t nominated this year. Villeneuve shows off considerable chops and a growth as a director. Deakins shoots the movie with his usual beauty on display, but a beauty in the grime of the world. A hard hitter, this movie has stayed in my head for months.
4. The Hateful Eight – Quentin returns with a new western, the second of two that Kurt Russell did in 2015, and makes the most literary and thematically dense movie in his career. Also the meanest and most nihilistic one. It’s the best movie about race relations and the wedge that a lack of empathy puts between people. It says we are all mean,selfish and hateful people that will destroy each other. Trust is impossible and the only way we can work together is when we share an enemy. But don’t let all this meanness fool you. This movie is fun as shit, thanks to Quentin’s penchant for snappy dialogue delivered by amazingly colorful characters that gets cut off by wonderfully insane bursts of horrific violence. With each movie he’s made, his visual strengths have only grown and here may be the best work yet. He utilizes the 70mm format to heighten the closeups to such staggering heights that you can see every pore on the face we’re focusing on and to get a bead on if the person is lying or not. He also uses wider shots to get more info on the screen, making it like a play where the characters in the backgrounds are giving out some info as well. His cast is as great as usual, chewing on this dialogue with relish and walking the tonal tightrope he sets out with ease. This is a great movie, maybe not his greatest but definitely the one that can have the deepest conversations.
3. Creed – Continuing the trend of movies that should not have worked and spit in the face of the idea that super delayed sequels are bad. Unlike the number one movie this year, this one did so by handing it off to a new generation that loved the franchise it was getting involved in. But like Star Wars, it does so by having an eye looking at its past by having the prior generation be important to the story here. It may focus on a new hero, it also has a good amount of history by having Rocky Balboa come back yet again. History weights heavy in this movie, from Rockys past glories disappearing to Adonis’ rocky childhood/absent father that looms heavy over him. And watching how both of these men connect and form a bond that helps them forge a new path by moving past their histories. Ryan Coogler shows us he is one of the best directors coming up today, cementing his talent. The story is brilliant and personal, filled with humanity and emotion. The fight scenes are next level great, shot like no other boxing movie before it. It switches between gritty verite style to highly stylized action. The cast is stunning, with Michael B Jordan once again showing off how great and versatile he is. But the MVP is Stallone, returning to the role that made him and that he plays so brilliantly. It’s another autobiographical turn for the pugilistic character, with Stallones past glories as a physical presence seemingly behind him. So he has to turn the reins over to the new generation. The weight and pain and defeat in Rockys eyes is painful and true, played brilliantly by a man constantly undervalued as an actor. This movie made me cry and really, that’s reason enough to rank this highly.
2. Bone Tomahawk – I did not expect this to be the best Kurt Russell western this year, but here we are. This mad mash up of genres, taking western with gruesome horror is one of the most perfect movies I’ve seen in a while. Basically The Searchers meets The Hills Have Eyes, there is nothing like it out there. The visuals are stunning, iconic western work. The cast is fantastic, deep and interesting with a little more complexity than the typical white hat/black hat stuff of the westerns of yore. It’s got an interesting structure that basically takes the forms of three different kinds of stories that work as a whole unit. And the violence is so next level brutal, it shakes you to the core as much as it does the characters. You don’t see violence this harsh, and neither have they. It’s an amazing thrill ride. It’s got some a real poetic soul mixed in with the brutal genre stuff. Westerns always have had a place in my heart, as have horror movies. So the merging of the two, a not too well worn mashup in cinema history, has worked like gangbusters here. I hope this filmmaker has an amazing career after this, because this is pure cinema and the work of a man who knows what he’s doing.