When I think back to 2015, I’ll remember John falling asleep at the most exciting part of Furious 7. I’ll remember the last-minute “dream team” viewing of the second Avengers movie with friend-of-the-blog Paul Otteni and my dad. I’ll remember exhaustedly dropping myself into a Washington, DC theater seat to watch Tomorrowland, just because I couldn’t bear any more walking. I’ll remember my car not getting out of the shop in time and my friends having to make multiple trips between Seattle and the Eastside just so we could all be disappointed by The Good Dinosaur (dinosaurs were such a letdown in 2015). Basically, I’ll remember how fun it is to go to the theater and give yourself over to a movie. It’s an experience I cherish, and one I think I did more often than any other year.
The one bummer about going first is that I don’t know what the other two lists will look like. This year in particular, I had about a top 17, which is a lot bigger than 10 and even bigger than the 15 I allow myself with honorable mentions. See, if I saw stuff was doing well with Colin and John, maybe I’d be inclined to bump it off my own list. Or maybe it would reinforce my convictions. I’ll never know, but here’s my list in its purest form.
Like any good West Wing fan, I take great pleasure in fast-paced banter. What’s surprising is that in a year that actually had a under-appreciated Aaron Sorkin-penned movie, my favorite banter came from Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. Baumbach had a huge year, with both While We’re Young and Mistress America telling stories about people coming of age well after they’re already of age. I prefer Mistress America because it’s a lot funnier, building a stack of lies and betrayals that comes tumbling down in a less brutal way than those in Baumbach’s other movie. Good times!
Easily the best comedy of 2015, What We Do in the Shadows is like the ultimate joke challenge. Taking a tired subject, vampires, and a tired format, the mockumentary, and make it seem funny and relevant and fresh? Yeah, good luck with that. I guess the only two people up to this challenge were Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who both wrote, directed, and starred in the film. In a year with only a few good comedies, What We Do in the Shadows was by leaps and bounds the funniest. Now let’s see what Waititi can do with Thor: Ragnarok, because that’s happening.
These next few spots were hard to decide, so what I ended up doing was pairing movies together, then choosing the one I wanted on my list more. I paired The Big Short with Spotlight, since they were both true stories set in the recent past without happy endings. Spotlight is great, a wonderfully written and performed movie that kind of seemed like an updated All the President’s Men. But The Big Short was something new, a heist movie where the American economy was the score. It was fast and fun and honestly quite devastating to be reminded just how shitty Wall Street is to pretty much everyone. To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger, “screw you, assholes!”
The Revenant got paired with Sicario, two beautiful, bleak movies. This was the hardest choice on the list, since I’m really scared no one else will have Sicario or The Revenant on their lists and both movies absolutely belong in the discussion for best of the year. Both make wonderful reminders of the power of cinema as a visual medium. I chose The Revenant because I think the grandiosity of it better serves the narrative – this was a movie no other director could have made. Nature is relentless and merciless, but mankind is stronger.
Creed got paired with Carol, because they both start with C and are about same-sex relationships. Sure, Adonis Creed isn’t romantically interested in Rocky, but the movie is definitely a love story between a tough orphan and an even tougher surrogate father. The Rocky franchise has already ended twice, so how is it a new movie all these years later actually works? It was the year of the soft reboot, shouldn’t I hate this? Yeah man, I don’t know what to say except that the boxing has never felt more real and the surrounding plot never more intimate. Creed, like the first Rocky, is a special movie that I eagerly await being turned into a cartoon by its inevitable sequels.
The Martian brought down the juggernaut that is Ex Machina in the matchup of sci fi films that are actually science fiction and not just action movies in space. I guess what it is, on top of the great cast and the surprisingly fast return to form from direct Ridley Scott, is the messages of The Martian are undeniably great to me. Human ingenuity can overcome even the biggest challenges. People have a natural instinct to help. The world can come together and do something great, if you give us a cause to rally around. The Martian is a story about the most expensive, dangerous, improbable rescue mission there could ever be, and it all centers around a lovable, sarcastic botanist. Great stuff. Also, apparently it’s a comedy because it has jokes? Whatever.
I think Room had to be on this list just because of how challenging it is. Jack and Ma face an insane and terrible hardship, one few of us could imagine living through. Director Lenny Abrahamson doesn’t shy away from any of that experience, showing the sorrow, joy, catharsis, and depression these two characters feel on their journey. A great movie is one that either moves you emotionally or makes you think, the best do both. Room accomplished that handily.
As tumultuous as the rest of my top 10 was, these top three have basically always remained since my earliest attempts at this process. Inside Out poses a troubling intellectual problem for anyone who took science classes in school. Because if you took science classes, you were inevitably shown Powers of 10, which tries to visualize how infinitely big and infinitely small the universe is – as far as we know. If the little girl is being driven by her emotions, and her emotions are sentient creatures, are they being driven too? How far does this go? Is free will an illusion and every single action really the result of an infinitely long bureaucratic chain? Anyway, this is a movie for kids about how confusing depression can be. It’s awesome, and might make you actually feel something too, you cold, uncompromising robot you.
I may have tipped my hand a little bit during the Mildly Pleased Awards when I called Mad Max: Fury Road a perfect film, but in the months since I gave it four and a half stars in my review, I’ve been wondering what it could have done better to earn that last half star… Or what it did wrong cost it a slight demerit. And honestly, I don’t think I have a better answer other than gut feeling. Maybe it’s annoying because it made the terric Furious 7 look like a chump by comparison? Or it’s just disturbing that a decades-later sequel to a franchise can be so good it makes the preceding films irrelevant? Fury Road changed the standard I hold action movies to, which is something I’ve heard promised about several films before but it never actually happened for me until now. George Miller can do a sequel or not, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we heavily invest into developing consumer-grade flamethrower guitars.
Let me just stress this again, because I’m always afraid people will forget – these lists are the definition of subjectivity. We never, ever try to call these the “best” movies of the year, because we don’t see every movie and aren’t qualified to even define what it means to be the best. This list is just about me trying to balance how I felt about the movies I saw last year against my predictions for the movies I’ll come back to in the future. And the new Star Wars movie, the first good one in a long time, has to be in the top spot on that list. It’s the only 2015 movie which I will pre-order on Blu Ray, and one of only a few I saw twice in theaters (shout out to the good Age of Ulton and disappointing Jurassic World), with a third trip looming over this weekend.
Star Wars is bigger than film for me, and it was such fun to see a movie made by someone with just as much passion. If I tried to judge it just as a movie, it’s doubtful The Force Awakens could even crack the top 10, but it will never be just a movie. It will be the goofy text message thread I had with friends – the one that got so out of hand it grew into terrible running jokes about canon and a separate thread when Colin couldn’t take it anymore. It will be the ridiculous night in October when I watched a trailer on ESPN and refreshed the Cinerama website for like six hours trying to get tickets. It will be fond memories of the Great Internet Spoiler Scare of 2015. It will be my “special day” when I finally got to see it with the biggest collection of friends and family I could get into the theater. Nothing else is even close.